The Missouri Senate could vote soon on a proposal to boost online privacy.  Under the bill, employers, schools and landlords could not require that they have access to usernames or passwords of a personal online account.

Sen Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) – photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

Republican Senator Caleb Rowden of Columbia, who’s sponsoring the measure, says it prevents unwarranted intrusion into people’s lives.

“You know, when you are talking about hiring practices, buying or renting homes, those sorts of things” said Rowden.  “It just keeps things that are meant to be private, it keeps them private.”

The bill also prohibits employers, schools and landlords from refusing to hire, admit or rent to any person who declines to disclose a password or username.  Rowden says it separates illicit probes from inquiries made in good faith.

“I think when you’re asking for passwords, in some cases and what that means, I think that’s a completely different conversation.  I think we just want to make sure that those two things are separated in law.”

Employers, schools and landlords that inadvertently acquire personal online information would be required to discard it.  The measure also bars employers, schools and landlords from taking retaliatory action against people who refuse to share their passwords or usernames.

But Rowden says appropriate information to would still be for available for those who are performing warranted backgrounds checks.  “If it’s within the bounds of life for employers to look at social media profiles and whatever you can glean from public information, that is certainly acceptable.”

A growing number of states have adopted laws to block unwarranted intrusions into private online information over the past five or six years.

Maryland passed the first such ban on employer access to information such as passwords and usernames in 2012.  It launched a movement of states to enact “anti-snooping” laws as social media exploded in popularity.

Rowden’s measure is similar in concept to proposals in the legislature dating back to 2010.

A bill in the Missouri House this year adds protection for students in elementary and secondary public and private schools regarding their passwords and social media accounts.  It’s received a hearing, but has yet to be voted on in committee.

Rowden’s bill is on the formal calendar in the Senate, which means it could be debated on the chamber’s floor at any time before the legislative session ends.