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Passwords, Privacy and Protection – The Social Networking Online Protection Act

The Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) prohibits employers from requesting or requiring a potential candidate or employee to provide passwords for personal email, private accounts or social networking sites, while protecting said candidates and employees from repercussions of refusal to provide passwords.  Introduced in April 2012 by Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), after the pressure was turned up on the intersection of privacy and technology by an Associated Press report of a 2011 incident where an employer required access to an applicant’s Facebook account, the SNOPA attempts to draw a line in the sand on social media access.  

Several states have already begun to address this issue passing bills banning this practice, Maryland being the first. As discussed in The Slippery Slope of Social Media in Hiring, there are some guidelines for using social media to avoid discrimination and libel claims.  However, SNOPA would be the first to address profiling through the access to social media and private accounts.  Whether you come down on the ‘for’ or ‘against’ side of this heated debate, the real concern is the protection of your company when traversing the social media world.  

It is a best practice to avoid asking for any personal passwords for email, private accounts and social networking sites.  However, you do need to set up the appropriate protocol for company emails, social media sites, websites and online accounts.  Proprietary sites are akin to exclusive information; they can and should be protected and controlled by the company.  Any individual employee with access to such accounts and account information should follow company policy that outlines access and password protection for those company-owned representations.  Here is where the lines get blurry again, and the debate is still raging about a personal versus public (company) account.  If an employee manages and maintains a Facebook page on behalf of a company, then exits, who has rights to the site, friends and information posted?  For now, we’ll have to wait and see how the State and Federal governments side.  In the meantime, we suggest that every employer have an extensive social media policy in place to protect both the company and the employee.  At McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland we develop comprehensive social media plans taking into consideration both sides of the story. 

© 2023 by McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume II, Number 234
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About this Author

Benjamin L. Riddle, McBrayer Law Firm, Litigation Attorney
Member

As a litigator, Ben’s first priority is to advise clients in a manner that keeps them out of the courtroom so that they can effectively predict and manage the cost of legal services. Ben has a diverse practice representing regional banks, private businesses, and non-profit entities in litigation and pre-litigation disputes. He has negotiated resolutions of commercial lease disputes, breach of contract claims, partnership disputes, construction defect claims, insurance and bad-faith claims.  Prior to joining Steptoe & Johnson, Ben practiced with the law firm of...

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