By: Lauren Saccone
Legislating the Internet has proven to be difficult. Most people agree that the law needs some jurisdiction over online behavior, but beyond that the debate becomes contentious. Privacy in particular is a problematic area. There are very few actual laws designed to protect the someone’s online information. A new bill going before Congress hopes to change that, on the world’s most popular social networking site.
When reports started coming out that employers were demanding the Facebook passwords of potential employees, public reaction was quick and vitriolic. It seemed a clear violation of privacy, but there was no actual law to prevent this practice. To refuse to provide the information meant risking being passed over for a job, a dim prospect in the current economy.
The newly introduced Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) would prohibit such behavior. Additionally, it would keep schools from asking for login information from their students. Furthermore, the law would protect anyone who was asked for their online information and refused to provide it. Institutions that violated the law could face $10,000 in civil penalties.
There have been previous attempts to curb this behavior legally, without success. In late March, Congress rejected a bill that would have prevented employers from requesting access to social networking sites. The bill had strong support, but was ultimately criticized for not being viable. Since that initial failure to pass a federal mandate, some states have begun working on legislation to project the privacy of social network users
“Several states, including New York, have begun addressing this issue,” said Representative Eliot Engel, who filed SNOPA, in a statement. “But we need a federal statute to protect all Americans across the country.”
Currently nine states are reviewing bills that would make it illegal for employers to demand any login information. A similar bill has already passed in Maryland, making it the first state to ban the practice. This not only sets a precedent for Congress to follow, it clearly shows that the public is aware of this practice – and they’re not going to take it quietly.
If SNOPA passes, it will go down in history as a groundbreaking piece of legislation – the first to deal directly with the privacy of social networks. Internet users will find their personal information legally protected from official institutions, and said institutions will be held accountable if the law is violated.
There is no word yet on SNOPA’s chances with Congress. Several congressmen have gone on record saying they agree with the bill, but that’s a far cry from the bill becoming a law. Even if SNOPA fails, the push for legislation regarding online privacy is unmistakable.
“The American people deserve the right to keep their personal accounts private,” said Representative Jan Schakowsy, who submitted the bill alongside Engel, in a statement. “No one should have to worry that their personal account information, including passwords, can be required by an employer or educational institution. And if this legislation is signed into law, no one will face that possibility.”
[Pic via Flickr - codemastersnake]