Most people think of digital-age privacy breaches as unauthorized intrusions — secret tracking of their online behavior or unauthorized downloads of personal data stored on their PCs or mobile devices.
But reports also have surfaced about people who have allowed prospective employers to view private information on social media platforms. One of the better-known examples, which received renewed attention this week, involved a corrections supply officer who in 2010 was asked during an interview with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide his Facebook username and password.
The officer, Robert Collins, went from the interview to the American Civil Liberties Union, where his comments about DPSCS’s screening process were videotaped and posted to YouTube. The ACLU said that unless Collins was suspected of illegal activity, the request for access to his Facebook account was illegal.
As news of Collins’ experience spread, the DPSCS responded initially by saying it reserved “the right to inquire about a possible candidate’s Facebook account during the hiring or re-certification process. However, it does not require/demand it …” The agency later backed down and said it was temporarily suspending the practice.
The issue recently surfaced again, this time in House Bill 964, introduced this week to the Maryland state legislature. The bill, which has ACLU support, basically would make it illegal for employers to access job candidates’ social media accounts.
Even without state or federal legislation to curtail it, though, employer access to candidates’ social media information could have other legal implications, particularly if the candidates’ acquiescence is viewed as compliance by intimidation. Employers also could end up in confrontations with social networks, since the sites’ privacy terms, in many cases, would be violated. Facebook states, for example, that for registration and account security, “you will not share your password … let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.”
Among athletic departments on college campuses, meanwhile, where social media use is ubiquitous and frequently a vector for controversial remarks, many department directors and coaches have created elaborate policies addressing social media use and monitoring by department officials. The Business of College Sports, a website that reports on legal and business issues in the sector, last month posted a chart summarizing policies and guidelines at 14 Division 1 schools. Click here for a look.