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Public Statements

Representatives Seek to Protect Online Content

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Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-16), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9), and Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY-11) have re-introduced legislation to protect the users of social networking sites from having to divulge their personal information to employers, schools and universities. SNOPA, the Social Networking Online Protection Act, protects people already employed or enrolled, and those seeking employment or admittance, or those facing disciplinary action, from being required to give passwords or other information used to access their online accounts.

Privacy on social networking sites has been a topic of extensive debate over the past few years, and users have suffered as a result. During 2012, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey all enacted legislation similar to SNOPA, and eight other states introduced such legislation. SNOPA is the only bipartisan legislation of its kind on the federal level.

SNOPA applies to websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and also protects email and any other personal user generated content. The bill would prohibit current or potential employers or educational institutions from requiring a username, password or other access to online content, or disciplining, discriminating, or denying employment to individuals, or punish them for refusing to volunteer such information.

"The lack of clarity in the law puts individuals in a position where they either have to give up vital, private information, or risk losing their job, potential job, or enrollment in school and involvement in the school's sports programs. Frankly, when there are no laws prohibiting institutions from requiring this information, it becomes a common practice. Social media sites have become a widespread communications tool -- both personally and professionally -- all across the world. It is erroneous to just say that if you don't want your information accessed that you shouldn't put it online. That ignores the basic fact of how widespread these websites and forums have become. We cannot go backward to a time before the internet existed -- we can only go forward," said Rep. Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Schakowsky said, "Asking for someone's password is like asking for a key to their home. Privacy is a basic right that all Americans share, and one that we should act to protect; this legislation sets boundaries. No one seeking an educational or job opportunity should have to worry that their personal password information will be required as a condition of enrollment or employment. I look forward to working with Rep. Engel and Rep. Grimm to see this bipartisan legislation signed into law so that no one will face that possibility."

Rep. Grimm said,"While social media may seem like public outlet, an individual's login information is private. When employers and universities require access to personal usernames and passwords, they are crossing a line that violates personal privacy. An individual's job should not be threatened by refusal to divulge personal information, which is why I fully support SNOPA in order to draw a clear line on the privacy protections safeguarding account information."

SNOPA awaits action in the House Education and Workforce Committee. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN-05), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01) have all signed on as original co-sponsors.


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