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Facebook protections urged for job seekers

By Brad Cooper

The Kansas City Star (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30 2013 8:59 p.m. MST

In the era of social media where anyone can be famous for 15 minutes – or longer – the challenge of the Digital Age is keeping stuff private.

That's prompted a pair of Democratic lawmakers in Kansas – Rep. Gail Finney and Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau – to try to protect job seekers from employers who want access to user names and passwords to snoop through social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter.

Finney also is pushing a bill that would ban colleges and universities from asking for the same information from students, or those looking to enroll, about social media.

The Facebook legislation is comparable to other bills that have been surfacing amid reports of employers using social media to screen job applicants.

"What you do over Facebook doesn't have anything to with the duties of the job you're applying for," said Faust-Goudeau.

"If people are out seeking gainful employment we shouldn't have other barriers keeping them from work."

Labor experts believe laws like the one proposed in Kansas are the first foray into untangling many of the complex issues related to social media and the workplace.

So far, six states have passed laws limiting employer access to social media accounts. Other bills have been rolled out in at least three more states. Ideas are circulating in Congress as well.

The laws picked up momentum last year after The Associated Press documented accounts of interviewers asking job applicants for user names and passwords for their Facebook accounts.

AP reporters found instances in at least five states where employers - several of them local governments - wanted to screen Facebook accounts as part of the hiring process.

The report drew a sharp reaction in Congress. Two senators asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether asking employees for Facebook passwords violated federal law. The answer, they were told, can vary from one situation to the next.

Meanwhile, Facebook's chief privacy officer issued a statement, saying that employers shouldn't ask job applicants for their Facebook passwords.

"You shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job," Erin Egan wrote in a March 2012 blog post. "It is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep a password to themselves."

Facebook vowed to take action to protect its users either by getting laws passed or by suing to protect its users.

"In many ways, I think this bill is overkill," said David Kight, who specializes in social media law at Spencer Fane Britt & Browne in Kansas City, Mo.

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