House Shoots Down Legislation That Would Have Stopped Employers From Demanding Your Facebook Password

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Well, that didn’t take long. A proposed Facebook user protection amendment introduced yesterday in the U.S. House of Representatives has already been shot down. The legislation, offered by Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter, would have added new restrictions to FCC rules that would have prohibited employers from demanding workers’ social networking usernames and passwords.

The final vote was 236 to 184, with only one House Republican voting in support of the changes.

Had it passed, this amendment would have tacked on an extra section to H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2012, basically allowing the FCC to step in to stop any employers who asked applicants for this confidential information.

The amendment to the bill was put forward following a series of media reports about this increasingly* common practice, which recently caught the attention of the ACLU, and even Facebook itself. On Friday, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer on Policy, Erin Egan, took a hard stance on the matter, reminding employers that not only was this a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, it could also put them in other legally troublesome situations, leading to things like discrimination complaints, for example.

When introducing the proposed amendment, Perlmutter explained the problem like so:

“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 access, monitor and even manipulate an employee’s personal social activities and opinions. That’s simply a step too far.”

The majority of House Democrats agreed, with only two voting against the legislation, which would have added the following paragraph:

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 or employees disclose confidential passwords to social networking web sites.

But the measure failed, with Republicans arguing that Democrats’ proposed legislation didn’t help, but they would be willing to work on new legislation in the future.

In the meantime, individual states may enact their own legislation, like Minnesota is considering.

On the other side of Congress, senators are asking the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to begin investigations into the matter of employers demanding Facebook passwords.

Oh, and, by the way, in case you thought C-SPAN was boring, you’ll get a real kick in watching this. I especially like the part where Rep. Ed Perlmutter refers to it as “the Facebook.”

*A report out yesterday by the Hartford Courant indicates that this practice may have not been so widespread after all. The original Associated Press that started the outcry was based on a reporter’s conversation with Reddit users.