Lawmakers push to keep Facebook passwords private

Co-author of new bill says proposal designed to "nip in the bud" a problem attending the rise of social networking.

Democrat Eliot Engel Eliot Engel

A couple of members of Congress want Uncle Sam to make it illegal for companies or schools to demand social-network passwords from employees, job applicants, and students.

Earlier today, Reps. Eliot Engle (D-N.Y.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA), which, among other things, would:

  • Prohibit current or potential employers from requiring a username, password, or other access to online content. It does not permit employers to demand such access to discipline, discriminate, or deny employment to individuals, nor punish them for refusing to volunteer the information.
  • Apply the same restrictions to colleges and universities, and K-12 schools as well.

"I don't believe people should be pressured into giving away their civil liberties," Engle said in an interview with CNET News.com. "In a democratic country, people have a fundamental right to privacy."

But like others who have tackled this issue recently -- lawmakers in Maryland and Illinois have introduced similar legislation -- Engle wasn't able to gauge the extent of the practice beyond the anecdotal. However, he said there ought to be a national principle that people have a right to privacy, instead of turning it into a state-by-state responsibility.

"It's important to set down a couple of markers now, that someone's private information should remain their own private information," he said. "I don't know [the frequency of the incidents] but if it happens five times, it's five times too many... I'd rather nip it in the bud right now."

About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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