State leaders consider rules for access to private information

For many, posting about their personal lives on Facebook and Twitter has become part of the fabric of popular culture.

Tigard’s elected leaders in Salem are working to make sure those posts, photos and messages don’t make it into the hands of inquisitive employers or university admissions officers.

Bills in the Oregon House and Senate would ban prospective employers and universities from demanding usernames and passwords of applicants as part of their application process.

Sponsored by Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard) and Tigard’s state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Southwest Portland), the two bills are meant to stop the questionable practice before it becomes widespread in Oregon.

Doherty got the idea for the bill after talking with a colleague whose daughter had recently applied to a college in another state.

DohertyDoherty said the university asked to access her social media accounts as part of their screening process.

“I couldn’t believe that they wanted to look at her Facebook page,” Doherty said. “That was the first time I had heard of it.”

Doherty started hearing about more and more businesses and universities that were asking for social media access as part of their hiring or admission process, as well as lawmakers who were taking steps to stop it.

California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Utah have all passed laws prohibiting the practice.

Doherty’s bill, House Bill 2654, focuses primarily on employers, while Burdick’s bill, Senate Bill 344, centers around protecting students applying to higher education.

“We were actually both working on the same issue, and neither of us knew it,” Doherty said.

Under HB 2654, employers wouldn’t be able to punish employees who don’t “friend” or “like” their bosses or the company on Facebook or other social media sites.

Neither bill stops employers or admissions officers from viewing publically available posts online.

Most social networking sites allow users to filter who can see their posts. It’s these private posts that Burdick and Doherty hope to protect.

“An employer would not be permitted to read an applicant’s diary or postal mail, listen in on the chatter at their private gatherings with friends, or look at their private videos and photo albums. They should not expect the right to do the electronic equivalent,” Doherty wrote in a memo about HB 2654.

Doherty said the policy invades the privacy of not just the applicant, but any friends, family, clients or other people who communicated with the applicant.

Gaining access to Facebook and other social media pages might also give employers access to sensitive information such as age, religion, sexual orientation and other protected information.

“That can expose an applicant to unlawful discrimination,” Doherty wrote. “Learning such information may also expose an employer to lawsuits from rejected job candidates claiming such discrimination.”

Doherty said she is not aware of any cases in Oregon where employers have asked for login information from job applicants, but said, regardless of how widespread the practice may be, the laws needed to be updated for the 21st century.

“We need to keep up with the times,” Doherty said. “There are certain questions you can’t ask (in an interview). Questions about their religion, or their age. This has become just one new employment thing you have to go through.”

Doherty and Burdick partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and TechAmerica on the bills.

Doherty said they could serve as a template for a national bill to protect social media accounts.

“That’s what is really exciting about this,” she said.

Doherty’s bill passed from the House Business and Labor Committee on Monday, making its way to the House floor for a vote.

Burdick’s Senate bill was scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday.

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