Keeping Your Facebook Out of Your Employer’s Hands

What would you do if your employer asked for your Facebook password? The scenario is growing increasingly common, with reports of employers and even interviewers requesting Facebook passwords, as a condition of employment. Some universities and schools have also joined in this process, requiring students to turn over user names and passwords or allow the institution to view private content through “friending.” With the looming threat on individual privacy, several states have taken steps to ban employers from requiring employees, contractors, and job candidates to reveal social media passwords. Additionally, the Password Protection Act of 2012 (“PPA”) and the Social Networking Online Protection Act (“SNOPA”) have recently been introduced at the Federal level.


The PPA prohibits employers from accessing private employee data under any circumstances. The PPA would make it illegal for an employer to compel or coerce access to, and subsequently retrieve information from, the online servers where private user information is stored. In essence, employers are blocked from accessing any online information stored anywhere on the Internet, if that information is secured against general public access by the user. For example, an employer would be prohibited from accessing an employee’s Facebook password, even if the employee accessed Facebook from a computer owned by the employer, since the password is stored on Facebook’s server.

The PPA has attempted to remain broad and technology-neutral by focusing on the servers where information is stored, rather than identifying particular types of internet services, such as, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, other social networking sites, email accounts, gaming services, and cloud computing services. This flexibility allows the bill to cover existing sites, as well as any sites that may come about in the future.

While the PPA presents great strides in preserving privacy, critics of the PPA have noted the bill’s exceptions and limitations, with many focused on the lack of protection for students. Additional exceptions include allowing states to exempt government employees or employees who work with children under the age of 13.


SNOPA prohibits employers, schools, and universities 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. SNOPA further bans employers, schools and universities from disciplining, discriminating against, or denying employment to individuals who refuse to volunteer such information.

Proponents of the bill tout SNOPA as protecting both sides of the fence. Not only is the privacy of employees, job candidates and students safeguarded, but employers, universities, and schools are legally protected from having to monitor password protected social networking content.

It is important to note that all of the legislation discussed herein is focused on private information. In other words, only password protected content. Employers, universities, and schools are still permitted to monitor and investigate individuals based on their public online content. Thus, it is important for individuals to properly safeguard any information that they do not want publicly known.


For more information, please visit our social media law service page.

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