Proposed Amendment To Password Protection Act Would Allow Employers To Demand Facebook Passwords During Company Investigations

By David Cohen 

The Password Protection Act of 2012 — which was introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives last May, but not acted upon and sent to committee — was the subject of an amendment at the House Labor Committee that would make an exception to the prohibition of employers requesting the Facebook passwords of employees or applicants in the event of company investigations.

AP reported that the amendment is intended to close a potential loophole that would allow employees to engage in illegal activities, such as sharing proprietary or consumer information via Facebook and other social networks.

According to terms of the amendment, as reported by AP, employers conducting investigations may demand access to personal social media accounts if the employees or prospective employees in question are facing allegations of workplace misconduct or sharing of proprietary information, and affected employees would be present during searches of their social network profiles, with all information found remaining confidential unless it pertains to a criminal investigation.

Denny Eliason, who is representing the banking industry, told AP his clients have had cases where sensitive information was shared via email, but he was not sure if Facebook or other social networks had been used, adding:

Rather than just referring everything to law enforcement, we have the opportunity to work with the employee and to investigate.

That was not enough for Dave Maass of online privacy-advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who told AP:

(The amendment) says they have a right to enter your digital home. It’s astounding that they would try to codify this and that all employers could do this … The national trend is to move away from this. It’s shocking that the amendment is going in the right opposite direction.

Shankar Narayan of the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union agreed, telling AP:

(The amendment) would turn this privacy bill into an employer fishing expedition. That’s the not the bill we signed up for.

On the individual state level, legislation to prevent employers from demanding access to passwords for Facebook and other social networks or personal email accounts is at various stages of the process in Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, California, Illinois, and Maryland.

Readers: Do you think this proposed amendment is a fair concession to employers, or does it dilute the original purpose of the bill?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.