Friday, April 27, 2012

SNOPA: The Social Networking Online Protection Act

The Social Networking Online Protection Act was introduced today by Congressman Elliot Engel of New York. The bill would ban employers and schools from requiring access to password protected digital content. The bill is a win for businesses, schools, and privacy. The bill would protect businesses and schools from creating a legal duty to monitor password protected digital content. Therefore, the bill protects businesses, schools, and taxpayers. In addition, the bill is a win for employees, job applicants, students, and student applicants because it protects them from being required to provide access to their password protected digital content

During my conversation with Bob Sullivan of MSNBC I stated that SNOPA provides employers and schools a shield against legal liability so no one can claim that employers and schools have a legal duty to monitor password protected digital content. In addition, I mentioned that because the bill protects a wide range of interests, it has a better chance at success than previous efforts.

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at

Copyright 2012 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.

(Full Dislcosure: I am working with Congressman Engel's office on this issue in a pro bono capacity. If you believe this is important legislation please contact Congress to voice your support)


  1. The idea that SNOPA would create a shield from liability for an employer or school simply because an account is password protected is novel, but maybe a little dangerous to rely on if a company or organization is evaluating risk and trying to determine if they should monitor the social networking of their employees and students.

    All social networking sites require user names and passwords. Not having the user name and password does not mean an organization or employer will not have access to its content. Many users choose privacy settings that are limited, providing open access to anyone wanting to view the content. God forbid something happened and someone was killed or injured as a result of school or workplace violence. I think many attorneys would be more than a little nervous taking a case before a jury and asking them to believe an institution had no duty to monitor social networking for threats against fellow students or employees. I doubt a jury would buy an argument that since you were not allowed to have the user name and password to see the entire site, you didn’t bother looking at any of it.

    Many companies and large universities have very sophisticated programs in place to monitor the Internet for theft and misuse of their intellectual property. Could you imagine what an opposing attorney would have to say about the company being more concerned about IP than its employees or students? A verdict could be astronomical.

    1. Thank you for reading the post and connecting. Businesses and schools do not want to create a new legal duty to monitor password protected digital/social media content. Furthermore, if an employer learns about a protected status of an employee because it viewed a password protected Facebook profile and later fires that employee the employee may later claim discrimination.

      I find it hard to believe that a jury would think a business or school has a legal duty to require their employees or students to provide access to their personal Facebook accounts or their personal Twitter accounts.

      You may want to disclose that you are analyzing this from the perspective of a private investigator who may want the ability to freely access any and all digital information without any legal constraints.

  2. Very interesting. Will it become law and if so, just in New York ?It seems that the US is slowly starting to catch up with at least trying to regulate aspects of online activity. In the UK, we are way behind.

  3. First of all, as a private investigator in the Commonwealth of Virginia I am licensed, regulated, and bound by the same legal constraints as attorneys.

    It is hard for me to believe that you read my comments closely enough to understand them. I said nothing that would remotely suggest that I feel a jury would believe that a school or company should have access to their employees or students personal social networking accounts. Falsely portraying my comments seems like an odd response.

    Nothing in my comments suggested that a school or employer should have or create a "duty to monitor password protected digital/social media content." I simply pointed out that because a school or an employer does not have access to that portion of an employee or student's password protected account it does not automatically absolve them of liability from not being aware when threats are made in the public portion of the account.

    You seem to have missed the fact that I was pointing out that SNOPA would not shield a company or school from being totally ignorant of threats made that are clearly visible to all on the Internet. Especially if the company or school already had an Internet monitoring program in place to protect intellectual property or monitor employees that may be sharing non-public company information.

    1. Thank you for continuing the dialogue. While I respect your opinion we can agree to disagree. I don't think I misinterpreted your comment that alleged that my argument is "a little dangerous to rely on". SNOPA and my comments focus on password protected content and not publicly available information. In my experience, private investigators and lawyers may analyze the same situation a little differently. Companies and schools have a reasonable duty of care to their employees, students, invitees, etc... and not an absolute duty. As a lawyer, I would not advise my clients to create new legal duties unless they were fully prepared to properly handle them.

  4. Thanks for connecting. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is scheduled to sign legislation today that pertains to some of the issues that the Social Networking Online Protection Act would cover. Maryland's legislation is the first in the country to focus on these issues. If enacted, SNOPA would apply to the entire U.S. and not just New York. New York Rep. Engel introduced the legislation. A great old school cartoon about the process that SNOPA faces is here:

  5. Thanks for the post. You have a new subscriber in me. SNOPA protecting businesses and universities from liability is certainly important but my interest is purely selfish. The invasion of my privacy from possibly being forced to give up my username and passwords is something I feel the need to combat. In my blog, I address this issue as it pertains to individuals. I think SNOPA is beneficial for all people involved, individuals as well as organizations.