Stepping Over the Privacy Line

Officials in Bozeman, Montana, are red-faced after intruding on the privacy of city-job seekers by demanding they disclose usernames and passwords for any Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Google or other social-networking accounts they may have.

After a harsh public reaction to the city’s new hiring policy, city officials apologized and rescinded the requirement.

Precipitating the oddball request was the belief of some Bozeman officials that they could learn more about applicants via the social-networking sites than would be disclosed on a job application or resume.

“Shame on us if there was information out there available about a person who applied for a job who was a child molester or had some sort of information out there on the Internet that kind of showed those propensities and we didn’t look for it, we didn’t ask, and we hired that person,” Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn told a CBS News affiliate in explaining the newly announced policy. “In many ways we would have let the public down.”

When the story broke, the firestorm began. Typical of the outraged response were the words of Atty. Kevin Bankston of the digital-rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation: “I think it’s indefensibly invasive and likely illegal as a violation of the First Amendment rights of job applicants. Essentially they’re conditioning your application for employment on your waiving your First Amendment rights, and risking the security of your information by requiring you to share your password with them. Where does it stop? How about a photocopy of your diary?”

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