New Social Media Privacy Law Taken Up by Congress

The social media privacy debate continues to rage – and now Congress has taken up the reins. Rep. Elliot Engel, D-N.Y., has introduced H.R. 537, the “Social Networking Online Protection Act.” Engel’s bill would make it illegal for employers to ask job applicants and employees for passwords to access their social networking sites and email accounts. If passed, it will address the concerns of 21 states that have similar legislation pending, and provide a national legal standard that has already been adopted in California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and New Jersey. While a national standard on this issue would be a positive step toward protecting individual privacy, it will not change an employer’s ability to see what is shared publicly. Employers who still want to use social media as a background screening tool shouldn’t ask for passwords and shouldn’t believe everything they see online. They should, however, make sure to put a well-trained individual who is knowledgeable about potential legal claims in charge of reviewing and vetting the information and consider FCRA implications.

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