Don’t Ask, Don’t Poke: What’s Next for House Proposal to Keep Employers From Demanding Your Facebook Password

Published on April 30, 2012
by Mike Isaac

In late March, the Associated Press raised hackles after pointing out a disturbing new trend: Employers asking prospective new hires for their Facebook login information in order to conduct a background check.

After those national headlines, Capitol Hill is finally listening. Representatives Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) introduced “The Social Networking Online Protection Act” to the House on Friday, a bill that would prohibit employers from asking candidates for their social networking passwords.

“No one would feel comfortable going to a public place and giving out their username and passwords to total strangers,” Rep. Engel said in a statement provided to The Hill. “They should not be required to do so at work, at school, or while trying to obtain work or an education.”

If the bill were to pass, employers or school and university admittance boards could be fined up to $10,000 for a violation.

The issue first exploded after the AP pointed to statistician Justin Bassett’s account of the questionable practice last month, spurring lawmakers such as Senators Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) to call on the Justice Department for an investigation.

But public concern waned after AP reporter Manuel Valdes admitted his evidence was mostly anecdotal and the practice “doesn’t seem to be widespread.”

Even if the hubbub was a bunch of sound and fury, the bill still has a long road to go before hitting President Barack Obama’s desk. There are still rounds of committee hearings, getting it through the floor of the House and the Senate and getting the two sides of the legislature to agree on a final version before sending it to the White House.

And none of those are easy feats.

Facebook isn’t commenting on this bill in particular, but it’s safe to assume the company will support its passage.

Soon after the AP published its initial story, Facebook made it a Terms of Service violation for anyone to share or solicit Facebook passwords. And when Maryland became the first state to pass a similar bill earlier this month, Facebook commended the legislature on the move, although Governor Martin O’Malley hasn’t signed it quite yet.

There’s no telling the exact timeline — so to speak — on moving the bill through Congress, but my guess is it won’t be speedy.

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