Can Bosses Demand Workers Show Facebook Passwords?

Dennis Faas's picture

Congress has rejected a bill that would have barred employers from demanding workers reveal their passwords for social networking sites. The vote won't have any immediate effect, but could lead to further legal cases on the issue.

The U.S. House of Representatives considered the topic as part of a wider bill that aims to limit the power of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by restricting the way it makes new regulations.

There's no guarantee the bill itself would ever become law. Even if it passed the House, it may be rejected by the Senate or vetoed by the President.

Representative Ed Perlmutter (D - Colorado) put forward an amendment designed to clarify the FCC's powers over employer behavior.

His amendment appears to have been an attempt to limit the effects of the proposed bill, as well as a way to get an explicit FCC power written into law.

Amendment Would Protect FCC Powers

Perlmutter's amendment read, in part:

"Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to limit or restrict the ability of the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a rule or to amend an existing rule to protect online privacy, including requirements...that prohibit licensees or regulated entities from mandating that job applicants or employees disclose confidential passwords to social networking websites."

Perlmutter said it was wrong that employers could demand such passwords from their employees, not just as a basic issue of privacy, but because employers could then abuse their access to an account. (Source:

However, the House rejected the amendment by 236 votes to 185. With the exception of one Republican who supported the amendment, all members voted along party lines.

Nosy Employers Making News

There have been several recent cases of employers demanding that job applicants hand over their passwords to social networks, ostensibly so employers can examine Facebook and other social network postings to learn more about the candidate. (Sources:

In the absence of any specific law or regulation, the legal status of such demands remains unclear.

While employers can't legally force somebody to hand over a password, it's possible they can demand passwords as a condition of getting or keeping a job.

Not only is it uncertain if this is the case, but it's also now unclear whether the FCC has the right to ban this practice, and whether it would lose or gain such power if the bill passes.

In an effort to reduce the uncertainty, several state legislatures are currently considering an explicit ban on the practice.

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