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House panel rejects business groups’ push for online passwords

SEATTLE – An amendment that would have allowed bosses to ask for a worker’s Facebook or other social media password during company investigations was withdrawn on Wednesday from a bill in the Legislature.

However, House lawmakers said they will keep tweaking the bill to address concerns by business groups.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, to safeguard the passwords of workers and job applicants. It now bars employers from asking for social media credentials during job interviews.

On Wednesday, House Labor and Workforce Development Committee chair Rep. Mike Sells withdrew the amendment that he had introduced at the request of business groups. The groups were concerned the original bill would open an avenue for employees to divulge proprietary or consumer information to outsiders.

Without the amendment, the bill, numbered 5211, cleared the committee and now awaits a full House vote, where it could be further amended.

Sells said the failed amendment didn’t specify what kind of evidence managers would need before they could ask for a social media password.

“We had a lot of concerns with the vagueness of the striking amendment,” said Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, during Wednesday’s meeting.

The amendment said an employer conducting an investigation could require or demand access to a personal social media account, if there are allegations of workplace misconduct or giving away proprietary information. The amendment would have required an investigation to ensure compliance with applicable laws or regulatory requirements.

University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo, who studies emerging technologies, said companies have federal, state and common laws that protect proprietary information. After reading the amendment, Calo said language such as “work-related misconduct” was broad.



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