Facebook users beware: corporate big brother is watching

Illustration by Sara Scherba


Illustration by Sara Scherba

By David Hurtado

The right to privacy has been debated 
all throughout American history, from cases such as Olmstead v. United States in 1928 to Roe v. Wade in 1973. In recent years, with the rise of social media, new arguments have emerged questioning whether employers should be able to demand an applicant’s Facebook password.

According to a recent article published by CNN, the American Civil Liberties Union said they have received numerous reports of applicants being asked for their Facebook passwords over the last couple of months.

Vincent Clark, adviser to the College Democrats, said he believes companies had a right to search an applicant’s Facebook profile because it constitutes public information and is legal.

“I don’t think anyone is guaranteed privacy by using a Facebook page,” Clark said. “American businesses have no trouble finding out everything about [applicants]. That’s always been the case, like with background checks.”

Facebook, however, does not take lightly to the misuse of its terms of service involving privacy. Eric Egan, chief privacy officer, wrote on Facebook’s privacy page that the company will not tolerate violations of its users’ privacy and could press for legal action if it occurs.

“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” Egan wrote on the page. “That’s why we’ve made it a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password. We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges.”

Jerry Magliano, adviser to the College Republicans, said he believes people should take personal responsibility for what they post on Facebook, especially if they are on the job.

“If a person is accessing Facebook on company property, then they are using that company’s resources,” Magliano said. “That opens you up to your employer having access to that information. It may be unethical, but it’s not a legal violation on your rights.”

Although the debate over whether the right to privacy applies to social media has picked up steam in recent weeks, Clark said it’s not likely Congress will step in anytime soon with a proposed bill. It’s more likely they will let the states decide for themselves.

“I don’t see any indication they are going to get involved,” Clark said. “There are other battles they are fighting over right now.”

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has ruled on privacy in a couple of landmark cases in the past, such as Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, Roe v. Wade in 1973 and more recently Pottawatomie v. Earls in 2001.

In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court struck down Connecticut’s law concerning the distribution of contraceptives to married people as unconstitutional. The court ruled that married couples had a right to privacy in making decisions regarding their families and procreation.

In Roe v. Wade the court built upon the ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, declaring that women have a right to have an abortion
if they choose to. It was determined that the state criminal abortion law that Texas had
was unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which protects individuals against state actions restricting the right to privacy.

As in the United States Constitution, the Kansas Constitution makes no provision for the right to privacy of an individual. In section 20 of the state constitution, though, it states any rights not mentioned in the state constitution are reserved for the people.

“Kansas legislature has no law relating to the issue of privacy and the practice of some employers asking potential employees to give them their Facebook password,” said Anita Tebbe, chair of legal studies.

Nate Tate, student, said he believes companies have no right to demand an applicant’s Facebook password.

“That’s none of their business,” Tate said. “I mean, I could give them my strongbox with all my information or the rights to my home. It’s essentially the same thing they are asking.”

Contact David Hurtado, reporting correspondent, at dhurtado@jccc.edu.


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