SNOPA bill could see snooping employers fined thousands of dollars

30 Apr 2012

The new Social Networking Protection Act (SNOPA) Bill introduced to the US Congress on Friday could result in employers facing fines of up to US$10,000 if they ask for access to users’ social networking accounts, such as Twitter or Facebook.

The bill, introduced to Congress by Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel, follows a storm of controversy where prospective employees and students in the US were asked for their Facebook passwords.

Cases where students in high school were asked for their passwords by teachers and school principals, as well as university students and people applying for jobs, have horrified many.

Under Engel’s bill, social networking content and passwords will have the same protection as passwords for email and bank accounts.

The bill would see current or prospective employers hit with civil penalties of US$10,000 if they ask for access to social networking accounts.

The bill would also ban other means of accessing information about students or employees, such as demanding ‘friend’ status.

Facebook itself has threatened to sue employers who demand passwords.

Protecting your digital footprint

“Social media sites have become a widespread communications tool – both personally and professionally – all across the world,” Engel said.

“However, a person’s so-called ‘digital footprint’ is largely unprotected. There have been a number of reports about employers requiring new applicants to give their username and password as part of the hiring process. The same has occurred at some schools and universities. 

“Part of the attraction to social networking is that you can feel free to interact with those you wish to, and post content as if it were part of a group dynamic. Passwords are the gateway to many avenues containing personal and sensitive content – including email accounts, bank accounts and other information,” said Engel. 

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years