Is your Facebook password equivalent to the key to your diary?
That’s the premise behind legislation being proposed and passed across the nation to block employers from requiring access to personal social network sites as a condition of hiring or employment.
In the Oregon Legislature this session, three bills address the issue, seeking to protect job applicants’ and employees’ privacy.
The bills, like the wider national movement, are a response to a new issue: Social media sites can send private information to a wide audience. They can be a platform for extensive dissemination of information, thoughts and ideas that previously might have been shared in a small, truly personal group. They are in effect “published” for an audience you select.
That’s different from your diary — written solely for you — or old-fashioned letters addressed to individuals. It means a large number of people have access to personal information, blurring the line between personal and public.
Hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, have access to this information, but not an employer or prospective employer. And yet, depending on the job, an employer has a legitimate interest in your reputation in the community and what you “publish” about your employer and related subjects.
The proposed legislation, and the indignant media commentary that has preceded it, declares that employers and educational institutions have no right to any of the information in these password-protected sites; it treats the material as if it were your diary or your old-fashioned letters.
It ignores the new complexity, and the possible need for fuller disclosure in particularly sensitive jobs such as law enforcement.
And in Oregon, at least, it appears to address a problem that’s not a problem. According to a report in The Oregonian newspaper, lawmakers aren’t aware of any abuses in Oregon, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon hasn’t heard of troubles with employers invading workers’ privacy in this way.
Oregon’s lawmakers have plenty of significant problems to address. They should not jump on this bandwagon, which oversimplifies a complex new issue.