The Issue in the Media
This issue has brought about a lot of media attention and unrest from the public. It is being covered as a violation of freedom of speech, and garnered as an invasion of privacy.
Over the past few years individuals have more often come to expect employers to search for their profiles and examine their social media. But they are taken aback and often offended to be prodded into offering passwords and usernames for employment.
In an article on the Digital Communities website, it discusses the controversy that occurred in 2009 in Bozeman, Montana over the situation.
According to the story, job seekers were required to list on their application any and all, “current or business websites, web pages or memberships to any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to included, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, MySpace, etc.”
One applicant e-mailed a local news outlet about the disclosure of this private data for applicants to city jobs, and the story ran both on air and the station’s website. The public outcry was immediate and officials rescinded the policy the following day.
Chris Kukulski, city manager, said the city officials felt the heat and wrote in a press release that "the extent of our request for a candidate's password, user name or other Internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community. We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the city of Bozeman."
The City Commission even unanimously approved nearly $10,000 for an outside party to investigate the policy and how pervasive it was, especially since there were claims that the hiring practice was larger in scope than the city originally let on.
Kukulski said in the article that he estimated that the policy first occurred in 2006, as part of a background check process for the police force. It most likely expanded to the rest of workforces in 2008.
The article goes on to explain that within the e-mail that prompted the investigation the applicant claimed he was told he “would be done” if he refused to provide the information. Kukulski, however, said in the article that failure to divulge that information should never have been grounds for disqualification.
That’s just it though right? If it’s asked and you are looking at a job you really want you aren’t going to feel like you can just leave that section blank and it’s going to be OK.
The article goes on to explain that usernames and passwords were not asked until later in the process of possible hiring.
"Those are not things that were asked of people until we get to the final stages of the interview process," Kukulski said. "And I think many people have assumed that this is information that was asked of anybody who was applying for a job. That's not correct. I'm not saying that to justify it. It doesn't make it right, but that's not the stage at which these questions were asked." They were only asked of finalists, and then only used on the applicant within the finalist pool that received a conditional job offer."
Andy Serwin is a partner with Foley & Lardner law firm. He said this situation is where privacy begins to waiver. A violation of trust occurs and in this circumstance, the Fifth Amendment comes into play because it was for a government role. There would now be a possibility of no protection against abusive government exposure or self-incrimination.
According to the article, the investigation report was released in October and found that forms for positions with the fire and police departments requested social media passwords and e-mails, but didn’t inform applicants that this was voluntary.
This case along with multiple other similar situations are occurring as social media becomes more prevalent in culture and society. Even years later, and still without legislation one must be prepared to be asked for information about social media, while still understanding that there is a right to privacy and no necessity in giving up usernames and passwords for a job offer to transpire.