Social Networking Online Protection Act

Status: H.R. 537: Social Networking Online Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY161) on February 6, 2013. It was referred to committee.

Is there such a thing as privacy online? Tracking cookies follow searches and web visits, social media comments can be tweeted and retweeted, employers can monitor your activities on company computers, tons of information about you can be searched on popular search engines. Job recruiters are even asking potential hires for passwords to social media sites. Google maps even provide searchers with a birds eye view of your house.

In an article in the New York Times on Internet privacy, Somini Sengupta points out that we’re the cause of privacy violations online. When we shop online we open an account.  We willing give our address, telephone numbers, identify our sex, and agree to the company’s terms of service. “But wait: What did you just agree to? Did you mean to reveal information as vital as your date of birth and e-mail address?” (NYT, Sengupta, 2004) Few of us take the time to read the terms of service before we continue to pay for purchases.

An About.com article by Wendy Boswell (undated) gives several things we can do to help keep our information private. In “Ten Ways to Protect Your Web Privacy,” Boswell suggests tactics such as avoiding unnecessary forms, clean your search history and log out of search engines.

For the most part, our government has left regulating privacy up to industry and individuals. When privacy violations turn into fraud, the Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement agencies can intervene.  Business have spent billions on Internet security to protect customers’ identity.

The government has, however, tried to pass legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring applicants to reveal social media passwords. In April 2012, H.R. 5050: Social Networking Online Protection Act, was introduced by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY17). This bill was not enacted and was reintroduced in February 2013 as H.R. 537, Social Networking Online Protection Act, also introduced by Engle.

The bill is currently referred to committee.  If enacted it would “…prohibit employers and certain other entities from requiring or requesting that employees and certain other individuals provide a user name, password, or other means for accessing a personal account on any social networking website.” (H.R. 537)

States have passed and are proposing legislation to forbid employers from requiring job applicants to provide user names and passwords.  Here’s a list of legislation and proposed legislation by state.

For an interesting discussion and opinion piece on this act see Michael Hennis’s interesting paper.

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