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April 27, 2012

Soliciting Facebook Info from Potential Employees and Students is Illegal

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

A federal legislation under the acronym “SNOPA” will make it illegal for potential employers and educational officials to insist on accessing personal online information as a stipulation for hire or enrollment. Apparently, the First Amendment was not sufficient on its own, so this will be the first bill that spells out the illegality of invading online privacy. I’m sure that many will agree with me when I say, isn’t it about time?

The anti-snooping bill proposed by New York Congressman, Eliot Engel, is called the Social Networking Online Protection Act. Rep. Engel has issued a statement to the press that this bill recognizes that the numerous accounts of employers or educational institutions “friending” job or school candidates, and even going so far as to insisting that candidates give up their log in names and passwords, is inherently wrong. "These coercive practices are unacceptable, and should be halted. We have to draw a line between what is publicly available information, and what is personal, private content. I think we would all object to having to turn over usernames and passwords for email accounts, or even worse, to bank accounts. User-generated social media content should be no different."

Many of the accounts in which an employee voluntarily submits Facebook or Twitter information, were probably due to simply wanting the job. Perhaps this makes sense for people interested in working for the FBI, but what other contexts justify employers or educational institutions from “sneaking a peak”?

MBC investigated this issue in March, and focused on an incident in Maryland where prison guards were denied positions based on what was found of them from their social media accounts.

Officials of the Maryland prison justified their behavior by claiming that they detected “potential gang activity.” The ACLU wasn’t having it. MBC also uncovered a statement in the University of North Carolina’s student athlete handbook that permits educational authorities’ to penetrate social media accounts. It reads, ”Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings. The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts." MBC describes UNC’s practices as typical. And although school officials might argue that athletes have special liabilities, again, the ACLU did not agree.

But it’s not just students or prison guards who feel that this behavior is wrong. Bradley Shear, an attorney in Washington D.C. stated, "I can't believe some people think it's OK to do this. Maybe it's OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It's not a far leap from reading people's Facebook (News - Alert) posts to reading their email. ... As a society, where are we going to draw the line?"

And, what about Facebook’s policy? Shouldn’t people take into account the company’s policy which states, "You will not share your password ... let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."?

Shear concluded his interview with MBC by stating, “We need a federal law dealing with this.” And indeed, that is exactly what we now have.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca
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