Legislation Protecting Facebook Login Information From Employers Defeated in House

Posted by · March 28, 2012 4:04 pm

Reacting to the uproar caused by the increasingly common employer practice of requiring job candidates to surrender their Facebook login information, Congressman Ed Perlmutter proposed a legislative amendment that would have barred employers from making such demands. Taking to the House floor, Rep. Perlmutter offered the following explanation as he introduced the amendment:

People have an expectation of privacy when using social media like Facebook and Twitter. 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 assess, monitor and even manipulate an employee’s personal social activities and opinions. That’s simply a step too far.

The amendment, which would have been attached to the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2012 (H.R. 3309), unfortunately did not pass congressional muster. Considering the nature of the amendment, the 236 to 184 final vote (almost perfectly along party lines) resulting in its defeat came as quite a surprise, especially given the considerable public outcry against this employer practice.

In fact, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Egan issued a statement last week condemning employer requests for the Facebook login of current and prospective employee passwords.

“If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your (Facebook login), let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends,” Egan declared. “We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.”

Is Your Facebook Login Akin to a House Key?

Days later, two U.S. senators called upon the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate the matter.

“Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries – why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, and who we are friends with?” inquired Senator Charles Schumer, one of the two senators calling for the investigation.

Echoing Senator Schumer’s concerns, fellow Senator Richard Blumenthal expressed that he was both “alarmed and outraged” by the increasingly common practice of employers requesting the Facebook login of potential and current employees.

What, you ask, was the language that the House chose to reject? A single, though extensive, sentence:

SEC. 5. PROTECTING THE PASSWORDS OF ONLINE USERS.

Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to limit or restrict the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a rule or to amend an existing rule to protect online privacy, including requirements in such rule that prohibit licensees or regulated entities from mandating that job applicants and employees disclose confidential passwords to social networking web sites.

What’s striking about this is that the House struck down, not a rule specifically preventing employers from requiring the submission of social media passwords, but simply the legal recognition that the FCC will not be prevented from adopting such a rule.

To the relief of those of us who appreciate not being forced to choose between keeping our Facebook login private and getting or keeping a job, the duo in the Senate—which believes this practice may already be prohibited under the Stored Communications Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—is reportedly working on a bill of its own to protect social media login information from employers.

What do you think? Would you be okay giving your Facebook login or other social media passwords to your current or prospective employer if refusing would cost you that job?

  • ldtowers

    The only thing people ought to be required to divulge are the public elements of their profiles, and perhaps to be required to set stricter restrictions on friends access rights.
    The only exception to this would, perhaps, be people applying for high security clearance jobs. Even then simply mandating friendship status should be enough.

  • Billy R

    What I want to know is what employers are doing this so people can start boycotting and protesting. Its pretty much absurd, but the tough economy has apparently led people to sell parts of themselves to get a job…

  • David

    Complete invasion of privacy.

  • Patrick D.

    I would no sooner turn over my Facebook password or any other personal password then I would give them a key to the front door to my house. That is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard of and a complete invasion of my personal space which has nothing to do with a employers rights. Next thing they will do is like a Colombian drug cartel and ask for pictures of your children and family.