Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) recently introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit employers from requiring current and prospective employees to disclose website usernames, passwords, and other online content. The Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), H.R. 5050, also would apply to students at colleges, universities, and K-12 schools, and impose a $10,000 fine for violations. Employers may not “discipline, discriminate, or deny employment to individuals” who refuse to disclose their information or “punish them for refusing to volunteer the information.” SNOPA is the first bill addressing social media passwords to be introduced in Congress, but Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) have indicated that they are drafting legislation on this issue.
Explaining the need for this legislation, Engel cited a “number of reports about employers requiring new applicants to give their username and password as part of the hiring process.” These reports have garnered considerable attention and inspired activity in many state legislatures. As we previously wrote, Maryland’s legislature passed a bill last month banning employers from requesting or requiring social media password disclosures. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed that bill into law on Wednesday afternoon. Similar measures have been introduced in other states, and recent developments indicate that some of these bills are gaining momentum. In New York, there are now indications of bipartisan support for legislation after a Republican state senator introduced a bill that is similar to a Democratic-sponsored measure. Meanwhile, in California, similar bills have received unanimous approval from committees in both the Senate and state Assembly, and in Illinois, a bill has already passed the state House of Representatives and a Senate committee.