Some Washington employers want to snoop in your Facebook

A new bill would prevent the boss from getting access to your social media passwords.
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Will lawmakers give a thumbs down to Facebook snooping?

A new bill would prevent the boss from getting access to your social media passwords.

A group of business interests want to tweak a bill that would forbid employers from obtaining passwords to an employee or job seeker's social media account. Currently, state law does not prevent employers from doing so.

SB 5211 would prohibit Facebook snooping, although an employer would be allowed to access any social media accounts that are publicly available. Also a job seeker or employee would be allowed to sue a company if this proposed law is violated.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, introduced the bill after reading Associated Press stories about employers forcing workers and job seekers elsewhere to provide private social media passwords. "It's not an epidemic." Hobbs told Senate Labor and Commerce Committee at a Monday public hearing. "It's not prevalent here in Washington." But, he added, "it is a good idea to do this now and nip it in the bud."

No one else spoke totally in favor of the bill. The securities industry, the Washington State Bar Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses want some changes made, arguing that the line between personal information and business information on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is blurry.

Michael Shaw of the Bar Association argued that business needs some exceptions in the bill in order to deal with misconduct and to help find employees in emergencies. Bill Estauffacher, a lobbyist for the securities industry, said federal law decrees that personal and business matters are not allowed to mix in the securities world and other financial industries. The bill needs some work, he said, so that social media can be properly monitored to comply with federal law.

If the committee does not move SB 5211 this week, it will die by vurtue of missing legislative deadlines.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8