Employees Could Be Granted Social Media Privacy

17549827-privacy-concept-red-closed-padlock-on-digital-background-3d-renderGovernor Chris Christie is considering a bill that would prohibit New Jersey employers from asking employees and ap­plicants for their social media usernames and passwords. Fines and lawsuits against NJ employ­ers would become possible under this bill.

According to William Hill, Assistant Dean of Career Servic­es, this is not the first time the issue of internet pri­vacy has come into question. Hill ex­plained that Christie signed a bill into legislation last Decem­ber that banned institutions of higher education from asking for such information.

Vice President and General Counsel, Grey Dimenna, said that the University is not prohib­ited by law from asking for all in­ternet passwords, but only those defined as social media. Howev­er, Dimenna does not think it is necessary information. “I would have to say that I am not aware of the University asking applicants for such information and certainly not requiring applicants to give us that information,” said Dimenna. “If so, I would be per­sonally opposed to such a practice.”

Hill agrees, stating that asking for person­al information such as Facebook passwords would be an invasion of privacy and cannot find a legitimate reason for ei­ther universities or employ­ers to request that informa­tion.

Dr. Gregory Bordelon, politi­cal science professor, said, “The interests of keeping students’ aca­demic, financial and disciplinary records private are dramatically different from the interests of pri­vacy between an employer and an employee. Even in the context of a private university, a student’s academic records present more of an individual privacy concern and more of a concern if improp­erly exposed to unwarranted third parties.”

Bordelon added that the Fam­ily Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which covers pri­vacy of higher education records, has different rules than state pri­vacy laws as a federal act. “An interesting scenario will be the student worker or student intern who may be subject to both fed­eral and state privacy laws but in different realms - one for his or her academic experience and one for employment,” said Bordelon.

Internet privacy invasion is a growing issue according to Hill. “Enough employers have asked [for social media information] to cause the issue to come to the at­tention of the national press and stories of this nature are not un­common on the internet,” he said. “The number of firms asking for this information will probably di­minish, due to the negative press surrounding the practice, and the rise of legislation in many states to outlaw it. Public opinion seems to be solidly against the practice.”

For employers, social media could be an opportunity to see the public image of people who will be representing their busi­ness. Chad Dell, Chair of the De­partment of Communication, said that while privacy is an important virtue and should be limited, peo­ple need to be aware that social media sites are public forums.

“Employers already have ac­cess to sensitive information about their employees includ­ing Social Security numbers, fi­nancial information and health information,” said Dell. “Social media information is essentially public material, so if an employer comes across information on an employee or potential employee that might reflect badly on the employer, it is in their interests to act on it.”

Given the current job climate, Dell added that employees’ im­ages on social media sites will affect their job opportunities that much more. If there is something questionable on an employee’s Facebook profile they are at a higher risk of termination.

Sophomore Ryan Mohr said he would never give an employer his Facebook password if asked, and that the simple request of such information demeans the creden­tials a person has earned during their education. “I believe that would be invasion of privacy and if you are hiring me based upon what’s on my Facebook then what’s the point of the degree I have?” he said. “My personal life is my personal life and my work life should be separate. I feel like employers who do this are more judgmental. Why would you want to work for somebody like that anyway?”

Another piece of legislation in progress aims to increase penal­ties for using electronic devices on the roadways. The fine for a first offense would increase to $200-$400, a second offense would range from $400-$600 and a third offense would be $600- $800. For any third or subsequent offense the driver could have their license suspended for 90 days.

Bordelon does not think that these increased penalties will have much of an effect on driver safety or law abidance. The law limits use of handheld devices on the road, but fails to address the issue of drivers being distracted by hands-off devices such as Bluetooth or talk-to-text inter­action according to Bordelon. “Even as we explore new types of technology, this connection between ‘holding’ the device and public safety on roads may be­come attenuated,” he said.

With technology becoming a driving force in law and legisla­tion the bill on Internet privacy is still under consideration. Borde­lon said that lobbying pressures on both sides will have a strong influence on the matter. “While more privacy would be something touted by employees concerned with excess disclosure and Inter­net privacy and autonomy… the rights of employers in workplace efficient should be considered as well,” he explained. “Also, in an election year, it’ll be interesting to see which lobbying force is stronger.”