House bill would ban bosses from asking for Facebook passwords

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) is drafting legislation that would ban employers from asking for their workers' Facebook passwords, his office confirmed Wednesday.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is planning to introduce a similar measure in the Senate.

According to recent media reports, there is a growing trend of employers demanding that job applicants provide passwords to their private Facebook accounts to check for embarrassing or damaging information.

The passwords give employers access to the users’ private messages, photos and the profiles of their friends.

Job applicants told the Associated Press earlier this month they felt they had to hand over their password or they would lose their chance at getting the job.

In a statement on Sunday, Sens. Blumenthal and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the practice "disturbing" and said it "represents a grave intrusion into personal privacy."

“A ban on these practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy,” Blumenthal said.

The senators asked the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate whether the practice violates the law.

Ryan Minto, a spokesman for Rep. McHenry, said the congressman's aides have been working with Blumenthal's office to draft the legislation. Minto said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) is also involved in writing the bill. 

"Requiring an individual to provide access to their personal social media account is an invasion of privacy, plain and simple," Minto said. "Congressman McHenry is considering legislation to prevent this encroachment into Americans’ private lives."

Perlmutter on Tuesday offered an amendment to a bill that would slow the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to adopt new regulations. Perlmutter's amendment would have clarified that nothing in the bill would limit the FCC's power to adopt rules banning employers from asking for passwords to Facebook or other social media sites. 

"No American should have to provide their confidential personal passwords as a condition of employment," Perlmutter said in a statement.

The House voted down Perlmutter's amendment at the urging of Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the author of the underlying FCC reform bill. 

Walden worried that the last-minute amendment would give the FCC too much power to regulate online privacy and said he wished that Perlmutter had brought up the issue earlier.

In a blog post last week, Facebook condemned employers who pressure people to hand over their passwords.

"If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends," said Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer for policy.

— This story was updated at 4:24 p.m.