Senate reviewing password protection bill

By Tim Shaunnessey

It’s standard procedure to give potential employers a phone number or address, but should applicants be forced to give them access to their social networking accounts? House Bill 3782, currently under review by the Illinois Senate, would prevent potential employers from requesting or requiring applicants to divulge their private social networking passwords.

The bill would serve as an amendment to the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, which shields employees’ personal information from their employers. Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8th District) sponsored the bill in the Illinois House of Representatives and said it was a logical extension of the act.

“You definitely would not ask anyone for their password for [his or her] email account or their online banking,” Ford said.

He filed the bill in the House May 18, 2011. As introduced, the bill establishes that “it shall be unlawful for any employer to ask any prospective employee to provide any username, password, or other related account information in order to gain access to a social networking website where that prospective employee maintains an account or profile.”

Social networking sites are defined in the bill as Internet-based services that allow individuals to do three things: construct a public or semi public profile within a bounded system, create a list of other users with whom they share a connection within the system and view and navigate their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The bill specifies that email does not qualify as social networking.

According to Jay Shattuck, executive director of the Employment Law Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, some of the bill’s original language was too broad. The bill was amended twice in the House—first to hone terms to prevent employers from accessing the interviewee’s account specifically and later to permit an employer to maintain lawful workplace policies relating to use of Internet, social networking sites and email on company equipment. The amendments also permit employers to obtain information that resides in the public domain or is displayed publicly on social networking sites.

Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for the Senate sponsor of the bill and Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said the amendments were implemented in an effort to prevent unforeseen complications.

“I think that was a sincere effort by Representative Ford to work with the business community,” Schuh said. “You don’t want to create unintended consequences by trying to protect the privacy of someone’s Facebook account.”

On April 24, the bill was assigned to the Senate’s Labor Committee. If the bill passes the committee, it will subsequently go to the full Senate.

“We certainly hope that it will get a fair public hearing in the Labor Committee,” Schuh said. “And we hope that the members of that committee will view favorably upon it and recommend it to the full Senate where it can then be debated and put up for a vote.”

Schuh said she believes the protection provided in the bill is an inherent right of Americans but added that a full Senate hearing is where conflict might arise.

“For most people I think it’s common sense,” she said. “Information that we as citizens deem private, you ought to have the opportunity to allow that to remain private.”