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May 15, 2012

PPA and SNOPA: Why They Are Unnecessary for Common-Sense Employers

Filed under: Employment Law,General HR Buzz,Privacy — Tags: , — Joyce Marsh, HR Consultant, SPHR @ 8:47 am

Since early spring, it seems one of the hottest topics I’ve been hearing about in HR has been the idea that potential employers want everyone’s Facebook password.  I first talked about it in March, when the story was reported by the AP.  The trend was apparently pervasive, and everyone was doing it (or would soon be).

I’ve always believed that people (and employers) will, as a whole, follow the “Golden Rule.”  I also think that even in a company that doesn’t subscribe to that mantra, decision-makers know that hiring smart people who get the job done equals higher profit.  If employers are running around compelling applicants and employees to fork over their passwords or disclose private information, they’re going to alienate everyone – especially the individuals they really want.

The ACLU (and a few others, it turns out) doesn’t agree with me.  Late last month, the Social Networking Online Privacy Act (SNOPA) was introduced into Congress.  Maryland wasted no time in getting a state law on the books, and several other states have jumped on the bandwagon.  Then, last week, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Martin Heinrich (D-NM) filed the Password Protection Act of 2012 (PPA).  The ACLU describes the legislation as having highlights and drawbacks:

  • “Sweeping in scope” – Extends to any situation that an employer might attempt to strong-arm an applicant or employee into providing access to information.
  • “Technology-neutral” – It is not limited to social networking, which could be obsolete in a few years.
  • “Glaring omissions… lack of coverage for students” – ACLU argues that SNOPA provides coverage for students.
  • “Fishing expedition” – They believe it allows too many unnecessary exemptions.

After reading this news, I was confused.  It seemed that everyone I talked to and every commentary or blog writer agreed it was a despicable practice to ask someone for this private information.  This morning, I came across this blog at TLNT by Eric Gaydos.  He presents four common-sense reasons why he believes employers will not ask applicants for the Facebook passwords, including that it’s just a plain old bad idea on an employer’s part.  I appreciated his point of view and I think he speaks for leaders that still have a good dose of common sense running through them.

What do you think?  Are SNOPA and PPA necessary, or are employers smart enough to avoid this pitfall?

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