Devil’s Advocate: It should be illegal for employers to ask for personal passwords

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion
Photo Illustration by Robert Huskey / Daily Titan

As of Jan. 1, 2013, new legislation will go into place that will prevent employers and colleges from requesting social media and email passwords from their employees and students respectively.

Two bills—AB 1884 and SB 1349—were proposed by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose), respectively. AB 1884 prevents employers from requiring that a current or prospective employee provide usernames or passwords to any social media account. SB 1349 prevents public and private post-secondary schools from requesting the same kind of content.

“California pioneered the social media revolution. These laws protect Californians from unwarranted invasions of their social media accounts,” said Gov. Jerry Brown on his Facebook page last Thursday.

This legislation was not only necessary, it was well-overdue.

Social networking is not just a tool for communication, but also a form of expression. Many people share their “likes,” as well as personal details about themselves.

Employers and universities could use information on these websites to form biased opinions about the people they want to keep tabs on.

The best way to determine a person’s character is to look at their performance while on the job. It shouldn’t matter what they like to do on their free time, and it most certainly shouldn’t matter what their sexual orientation or religious views are. These things don’t make a person less of a hard worker. In fact, a potential employer cannot even legally ask about many of these things.

And if employers are worried about alcohol or drug abuse outside of work, they can screen for those things in a drug test rather than sorting through a slew of inconclusive photographs.

Similarly, prospective employers and universities don’t need to look to Facebook or Twitter to decide if a person is a good fit for their establishment. Good old fashion resumes and college applications have always been an indication of potential, so why reinvent the wheel?

Many would be quick to point out that social networking is a confusing phenomenon. As it integrates itself into society more than ever, it’s often hard to determine where boundaries start. When Facebook provides the opportunity for someone to share where they work or went to college, it becomes difficult to separate one’s personal life from their professional one.

Though it’s true that social networking is growing and changing, that doesn’t give employers or schools the right to usurp a person’s profile for their own benefit. It should be up to the individual to determine what personal information they would like to share with others, and what information they would not.

Yes, sites like Facebook and Twitter are constantly evolving. In a way, that’s the reality of the 21st century; the line of what’s appropriate to do with social networking will always be blurred as the medium continually changes. As a result, people will often be taking the wrong approach toward dealing with something they don’t fully understand.

That’s why this legislation is so important. Hopefully these two signed bills will be the first of many to keep people’s privacy protected.

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