People share a lot of personal information on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, but should a potential employer be able to see that content to evaluate your suitability for a job? A San Jose lawmaker says no and has introduced a bill in the California Legislature to prevent them from doing so. I think it’s a necessary step to draw a line between due diligence on the part of an employer and invasion of privacy.
Democratic State Assemblymember Nora Campos says AB 1844 would bar prospective employers from requiring job applicants to divulge their username and passwords to social media sites as part of the job hiring process, though employers could still view content that’s publicly available. “Our social media accounts offer views into our personal lives and expose information that would be inappropriate to discuss during a job interview due to the inherent risk of creating biases in the minds of employers,” said Campos in a statement on her State Assembly Web site. “In order to continue to minimize the threat of bias and discrimination in the workplace and the hiring process, California must continue to evolve its privacy protections to keep pace with advancing technology.”
The measure passed the Assembly Labor Committee Wednesday and is expected to “sail through” the Legislature, according to the San Jose Mercury News. It’s to be considered by the Assembly May 10, according to an assistant to Campos today.
If passed, California would be one of the first states to legislatively prohibit employer access to password-protect portions of a job candidate’s sites. One has already been enacted in Maryland, the site of a much publicized case of employer privacy invasion. There, an applicant for reassignment as a state prison guard was asked to reveal his Facebook username and password as part of the hiring process. The candidate, Robert Collins, complied, but later described the process as “humiliating” and filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.
I heard an interview with Collins in a report aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” in March. In it, the Maryland Department of Corrections argued that it needed to search Collins’ Facebook posting to determine if he might have gang affiliations — a real security risk in prisons. To be sure, screening applicants for a job as a prison guard requires a thorough background check and, in fact, the interviewer on “All Things Considered,” Robert Siegel, noted that certain sensitive positions like with the FBI, the National Security Agency or the Pentagon require tighter screening than for most other jobs.
Fair enough, but there are other ways to conduct such screening without crossing the line into privacy invasion and, moreover, creating a precedent that other employers could exploit for far less high-security positions.
The problem is that content viewed on an applicant’s Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram or other such sites could possibly be taken out of context by a potential employer and used against the applicant unfairly. Photos of someone drinking at a party do not necessarily mean they abuse alcohol or would be at risk of drinking on the job. Viewing social media content could also open candidates up to discrimination if they revealed they were gay or support one political party over another.
I applaud Assemblymember Campos for pushing AB 1844, hope Gov. Jerry Brown signs the legislation and hope other states follow the lead of California and Maryland in providing this important protection. Social media has exploded in popularity in a short time and while the technology offers many positive opportunities for people, there are unintended consequences and invasion of privacy in this manner is one of them.