Proposed Federal Law to Protect Employee Social Media Passwords

In recent years, employers have scrutinized employee or prospective employee postings on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites, as part of their screening process for employment, promotion or termination decisions. This may come to an end if The Password Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 2077) becomes law. The Password Protection Act would amend federal law to make it unlawful if an employer

‘(A) for the purposes of employing, promoting, or terminating employment, compels or coerces any person to authorize access, such as by providing a password or similar information through which a computer may be accessed, to a protected computer that is not the employer’s protected computer, and thereby obtains information from such protected computer; or
‘(B) discharges, disciplines, discriminates against in any manner, or threatens to take any such action against, any person–
‘(I) for failing to authorize access described in subparagraph (A) to a protected computer that is not the employer’s protected computer; or
‘(ii) who has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this paragraph, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding;’.

The bill contains certain exceptions, which would permit courts to require the disclosure of such passwords if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought “is relevant and material to protecting the intellectual property, a trade secret, or confidential business information” of the employer.

The bill was referred to a congressional committee on May 21, 2013, which will consider whether it will be sent to the House or Senate as a whole.

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