It’s Time to Ban Facebook-Snooping Bosses

It’s Time to Ban Facebook-Snooping Bosses

Lawmakers are intensifying efforts to ban employers from asking job seekers for their Facebook passwords — and it’s about time.

What’s the Plan?

Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) introduced a bill banning employers from asking job candidates and current employees for their Facebook passwords, complete with a $10,000 fine.

The Social Networking Online Protection Act (SNOPA) also extends to colleges and educational institutions, and looks to curb the practice of snooping through Facebook information to make hiring decisions.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) discussed drafting similar legislation, but this is the only federal bill in the hopper, following a ban on the practice from Maryland’s state legislature.

Snooping Is Wrong

Demanding Facebook passwords violates users’ privacy, not to mention the site’s terms of service.

People use Facebook to send and receive private messages, photos and videos, just as they do e-mail. As the practice grows more widespread, a federal bill is necessary to quell the unscrupulous behavior.

Employers shy away from candidates who post pictures of themselves on social media boozing and wearing scandalous clothing, and they also look through their status updates for references to drugs, drinking and other undesirable activities. All of this is within bounds, and savvy job seekers should make sure to present a suitable public profile while looking for jobs. Rejecting someone based on an unacceptable social media persona shows good sense; smarter candidates go into interviews conscious of their online impressions.

Scouring candidates’ personal social media information, however, and demanding access to an employee’s entire profile, is a whole other matter. Even people who take care to post professional-caliber photos to their public page may make send racy pictures to lovers or dirty jokes to friends through Facebook’s messaging function. The public profile on Facebook can be used as a supplement to the traditional resume, but the rest of it is tantamount to snooping through personal e-mails, letters and diary entries.

“We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action,” said Facebook privacy chief Erin Egan, who likely welcomes the bill. Facebook is building political clout, and may use its alliances to push the bill forward, as the employer controversy undermines Facebook’s privacy goals.

Personal E-Mail in Danger?

SNOPA is expected to face opposition from Republicans, but if it does not go through, employers will likely continue asking for Facebook passwords, which will erode public confidence in Facebook’s security and cause major problems for the social network. Allowing this behavior to continue begs the question: is anything really private on the internet?

After all, if employers can read personal Facebook messages, what will stop them from asking for personal e-mail passwords as well, especially in a world where they are basically the same? Granting access to private electronic information to employers will have serious implications for the way people communicate.

If every e-mail and Facebook message sent has the potential to be read by bosses, teachers and admissions counselors, people will stop using these forums of communication for personal correspondence. This may be a big win for the postal service and land lines, but it will likely spark widespread outrage. Interests are lining up against SNOPA, but this bill will happen sooner or later, as people continue to fight for their rights to personal online communication.

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