Facebook and other social media site usage has become almost the norm, especially in the tech-savvy Bay Area, where new technologies are embraced quickly. These sites allow for users to share information across a broad network of people, but they also allow private communication among a small group or even between two people.
The assumption of people using social media platforms is that information shared publically is for the world to see while private communication is protected from prying eyes. This is not an unreasonable expectation of people to have.
That is why it is troubling that prospective employers are asking job seekers to reveal their Facebook passwords. The Associated Press reported recently that, during interviews, job seekers were asked for their login information so that companies could peruse the most private information on the social media site. As Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor, told the AP: “It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys.”
There already are laws that dictate what questions employers may or may not ask job seekers during interviews. Now it is time that those laws catch up with the technology that is out there.
In the wake of the AP story, several lawmakers stepped forward with proposed legislation that would make the practice of asking for social media account login information illegal. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut told the AP on Thursday that he is writing a bill that would prohibit employers from asking for social media account passwords, even if the request was voluntary.
California Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, announced in a press release Friday that he is introducing legislation to stop employers from requesting or demanding social media account information. “These outlets are often for the purpose of individuals to share private information with their closest friends and family,” Yee said in a statement. “Family photos and non-work social calendars have no bearing on a person’s ability to do their job and therefore employers have no right to demand to review it.”
It is troubling that the government should have to interfere in this area of peoples’ lives, but there need to be steps taken to protect private communication among citizens. Facebook itself points out that the privacy is for the user and for the friends of the user, who would be exposed during such invasive practices. “As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” the company wrote in a post on its website. “And as the friend of a user, you shouldn’t have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn’t intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.” The company said it has made it a violation of its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” to solicit a password.
The digital world has opened up a slew of information to prospective employers, who can now dig through public records and publically available information online that was previously hard to acquire. There is a line, however, at crossing into private communications, and we all need to support legislation protecting our private social circles and the communication within.