Tuesday, June 05, 2012

State House committee approves ban on accessing employee's social media

Normally, I don't support legislative solutions to issues, but this is one I support at the state (although not federal) level. From the AP and Annarbor.com
A Michigan House committee has approved legislation that would bar employers and universities from asking prospective employees or students for access to their social media and personal email accounts. House Bill 5523 would prohibit employers from disciplining or discriminating against candidates who refuse to give up the usernames and passwords to their Facebook, Twitter, or email accounts. The Detroit News reports the House Energy and Technology Committee unanimously passed the bill on Tuesday. It now moves on to the full House for consideration.
I wrote about this in March titling the post Invasions of privacy, writ large. I'm not a guy who supports a lot of bans, but this one is needed for one major reason. 1. You already have a federal law, albeit one unenforced, on the books. Some companies are telling people to break the law. From my March Post.
Here's the part that really gets crazy and sets me off. It can also cover this edition of ridiculous laws of the week. This belongs in tort law, not criminal law. Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network's terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky. The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted. Federal crime? A felony? I remember reading about this a long time ago. I believe it's under a fraud provision, but I need to double check. Still, you got to be kidding me. "Such violations would not be prosecuted?" So what. It's on the books. It CAN be enforced. It's STILL a crime. What we have here is people being told to commit a crime in job interviews. If it isn't worth prosecuting, get it the hell off the books.
Now if I quit my business to interview with a company that asked for this information, I'd say this. "First off, you are asking me to commit a felony. Secondly, in my line of work, I deal with proprietary information. If I give out that information any time the pressure is on, can you trust me to keep secrets of my clients. If you want to know my professional work history and how I conduct myself, talk to my clients. If you want me to commit a felony or give out proprietary information, I can not do that." In other works, go perform an unnatural act on yourself. The rest of what I said in March still applies. If I'm expanded to the point I'm hiring a lot of people, I'd never ask for login information, and would be supplying company computers and company emails with the full understanding that business stays only business, and personal stays personal unless it directly affects business (things that can be found on public records). That protects everybody. The irony about this is that from my perspective I have a bigger problem if you give login information away to HR, because I now wonder if I can count on you to keep things that need to be kept in-house, in-house if there's pressure by some bureaucrat.

Due to discrimination laws, I can not generally (in most cases) discriminate against somebody in employment on the basis of race, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, military service, bankruptcy, genetic information, or citizenship status. In Michigan that includes marital status as well. In a lot of states it includes sexual orientation, although even in states not specifically listed, that's likely a lawsuit waiting to happen in a lot of areas. The easiest way to avoid any lawsuit or tort case is to simply not ask about those sort of things at all. Why would I anyway? None of those affect my area of business. I'm not going to ask, and it isn't my business.

Now, if some of these social network thing-a-my-bobs carry that information, is listed privately, and someone gets that information due to possible coercion (is it really volunteering the info?) by HR, does that amount to a case if someone isn't hired? That's in addition to that federal law described above violated (it's on the books, and who knows when it will be enforced) and violation of terms of service contracts (tortuous interference claims by the social networks if they prove damages).

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