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Washington House Panel Rejects Push For Passwords

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( AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN  )

( AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN )

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SEATTLE (AP) — 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have allowed bosses to ask for a worker’s Facebook or other social media password during company investigations was withdrawn on Wednesday from a bill in the Legislature.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. Stave 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.

Other members of the panel agreed.

“We had a lot of concerns with the vagueness of the striking amendment,” said Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We also recognize that there are legitimate concerns by the business community. We do hold them responsible for harassment that takes place in their workplace.”

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

Under the amendment, employees would have been present when their social network profiles are searched, and information found would be kept confidential unless it is relevant to a criminal investigation.

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.

The Associated Press reported last year that some employers around the country were asking applicants for their social media information. Seven states have banned employers from asking job applicants and employees for social network passwords, with some exceptions.

Another 33 states are considering similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Manuel Valdes can be reached at https://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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