Heinrich Sponsors Bill To Prevent Employers From Demanding Social Network Passwords

May 9, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C.--U.S. Representatives Martin Heinrich (NM-1) and Ed Perlmutter (CO-7) have introduced legislation aimed at curbing the growing practice of employers requiring prospective or current employees to provide access to password-protected accounts as a condition for employment.  Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced an identical companion bill today in the Senate.

“Employers demanding Facebook passwords or confidential information on other social networks is an egregious privacy violation and should be against the law,” said Rep. Heinrich. “Personal information like race, religion, age, and sexual orientation is often accessible on social networking profiles, and by having access to this information employers could discriminate against an applicant who would otherwise be qualified for a job. In an ever expanding world of technology, we need to have clear laws on the books to protect Americans' right to privacy.”

The Password Protection Act of 2012, drafted in consultation with major technology companies and legal experts, addresses this problem by enhancing current law to ensure that compelling or coercing employees into providing access to data stored in private accounts is prohibited.

“Employers seeking access to passwords or confidential information on social networks, email accounts, or other protected Internet services is an unreasonable and intolerable invasion of privacy,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information. This legislation, which I am proud to introduce, ensures that employees and job seekers are free from these invasive and intrusive practices.”

“People have an expectation of privacy when using social media like Facebook and Twitter,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “They have an expectation that their right to free speech and religion will be respected when they use social media outlets. No American should have to provide their confidential personal passwords as a condition of employment. Both users of social media and those who correspond share the expectation of privacy in their personal communications. Employers essentially can act as imposters and assume the identity of an employee and continually access, monitor and even manipulate an employee 's personal social activities and opinions. That's simply a step too far.”

Recent news reports have highlighted a disturbing increase in the number of employers asking prospective employees to hand over usernames and passwords to their personal accounts on websites like Facebook. Some job applicants are even being asked during interviews to log into these websites and allow interviewers to browse the applicant’s profile, acquaintances, and other information. Others are being asked to provide passwords on job applications.

The Password Protection Act of 2012 enhances current law to prohibit employers from compelling or coercing employees into providing access to their private accounts:

  • Prohibits an employer from forcing prospective or current employees to provide access to their own private account as a condition of employment.
  • Prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against a prospective or current employee because that employee refuses to provide access to a password-protected account.
  • The Password Protection Act only prohibits adverse employment related actions as a consequence of an employee’s failure to provide access to their own private accounts. It preserves the rights of employers to:
    • Permit social networking within the office on a voluntary basis.
    • Set policies for employer-operated computer systems.
    • Hold employees accountable for stealing data from their employers.
  • Employers that violate the Password Protection Act may face financial penalties.

The other House Members joining Reps. Heinrich and Perlmutter as original cosponsors are Reps. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3), Bobby Rush (IL-1), Jim Cooper (TN-5), Lois Capps (CA-23), Larry Kissell (NC-8), David Cicilline (RI-1), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), John Lewis (GA-5), Steven Rothman (NJ-9) & Adam Schiff (CA-29).