(RNN) - Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate which would prohibit companies from obtaining social media passwords from employees or job candidates.
The Password Protection Act would help employees and potential employees keep their Facebook, Twitter or other social media profiles private from spying eyes of bosses.
"With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants' private, password-protected information," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, who introduced the bill in the Senate.
The bill is a response to increasing reports of employers asking for social media passwords in their hiring process in order to assess a candidate's qualifications.
"Employers don't ask job applicants for their house keys or bank account information. Why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of their private information?" Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, asked.
The bill is modeled after the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the federal government's main anti-hacking tool. It prohibits employers from accessing "protected computer[s]" where social media files are kept.
"By focusing on the servers where information is ultimately stored, the Password Protect Act avoids the tricky business of identifying and defining particular types of internet services," according to a press release from the bill's sponsors. "By focusing on where a person's private information is stored, instead of how it is accessed, the Password Protection Act ensures that personal, private online information will be protected [from] the eyes of prying employers even as new online technologies emerge."
The act would protect information even if it's accessed on a computer owned by the employer.
"In an ever expanding world of technology, we need to have clear laws on the books to protect Americans' right to privacy," Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, said.
Heinrich and Sen. Ed Permutter, D-CO, jointly introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives.
The mirror bills were introduced on May 9, more than a month after Maryland became the first state to explicitly outlaw the practice of employers asking for social media profile access.
"This bill creates a necessary framework for guarding privacy in the 21st century," said Christopher Calabrese, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The group said it wished the bill extended protections to students who face social media monitoring, but the bill was a good start.
"It does establish clear, bright boundaries when it comes to what online information our bosses can access," Calabrese said. "We'll work with the sponsors to extend these protections to students and eliminate some problematic exceptions."
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