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Reporters' Roundtable Ep. 117: Can you be forced to give up your Facebook password?Is the private side of your social network really private? What do you do if an employer asks to see into your personal world? We discuss with Bob Sullivan, author of the "Red Tape Chronicles" for MSNBC.
Cargo one -- -- needle in a San Francisco welcome to reporters' roundtable. This week we're talking about a disturbing turn of events in online privacy. You'll be forced to give up FaceBook access as a condition of getting a new -- If you're applying for job at the Maryland department of corrections you may be asked to -- an -- into your FaceBook account. Poke around and see what the social network looks like from your private perspective. Previously interviewees were even asked to give up their passports. At some colleges in the US students have been required to friend coaches or compliance officers so their lives to be monitored in the social network. While employees and students can always protest these requests if you want the job or the scholarship. -- -- ask for access to your private social network you're likely to fuel coerced event. These reported issues and there are probably others raise important questions around privacy in the delineation between our personal and our professional or public lives. On Wednesday -- -- to prevent employers from asking for passwords failed to win a vote in the House of Representatives. FaceBook though has clearly said that it -- against the terms of service to share your password with others. And at the company will fight this trend in all the ways that can't. All right so our guest today to discuss this really important issue is Bob sold -- Reporter at MSNBC. Who about reported first on the story and is the author of the online column the red tape chronicles -- thanks so much for making the time. -- happy to be here so how this happened how this whole thing come to light tells the Genesis of the store. Well you know like almost all privacy stories to start small and it just -- -- for a long time now we've known -- -- very liberally use Google to background employees say look at social networks they see what people have up there in their public sites. And so if you think about it it's really not a largely where company that wants to know everything -- can't about. And plead that the gonna invest a lot of money and -- a well we sewage -- your public Facebook's like that -- you that you had any things interesting. Behind your privacy -- behind your password and so. I was gonna a couple of scattered incidents is not widespread yet it's certainly -- clear incidence of either on applications. Companies asking her. Individuals to give up their username and password -- as you mentioned during job and if -- saying please log -- -- your council -- shoulders are -- you click around for your friends and and schools are requiring this kind of thing either requiring an athletes connect live. Compliance officers are they using software and it manually and make them look at and inspect and -- -- athletes post so. It's just becoming what what always happens when this data available. Employers and governments are gonna wanna try to look at it and use it -- damage so tell us about the in the case of Robert columns which I think is the a watershed -- incident here. Yet a couple of years ago -- started that he applied for jobs and I see a former employee was reappointed to work back -- Maryland department of corrections. And they demanded that he give up his username and password and and turned -- this was policy in Maryland at the time they had asked for several thousand potential employees to give up there there -- username and pass where. But he did it because -- one of the job but anyway from the ACLU. Which complained about it and filed a lawsuit and as a result of that initially Maryland suspended that practice. I and when the heat was turned off they slowly went back to something was almost same but not quite. Now they just ask people to log into their account so they can see what's on their FaceBook account. Merrill department correction both say they doing this because they want to see the potential guard potential prison guard might have gang ties. But as you might imagine. -- a lot of folks have problems of this and and while it's optional. Well over 90% of the people who interviewed the give up their information so it's not -- -- -- -- applying for a job you just say yes when -- job. -- no -- -- in this economy. You know this is also affecting as you said college applicants were or sports. Scholarship recipients is that right. Yet -- to different stories there 01 is I have actually it does have a learning brandish your who's really been spearheading all of this is based in Washington DC's just the First Amendment lawyer and he's been tracking this for a long time and he has heard from parents who say when their -- went for their college interview. The -- and -- said. Can I see your FaceBook page cannot see inside your -- -- -- so nothing systematic on that front but what is systematic. Is -- athletes and -- names which programs football player -- basketball players are being required all over the country. To an impairment minimum -- -- compliance officer. So that means that someone at the schools an official culture or an assistant. Can actually see everything that an athlete posts to their friends even of the -- it. -- they're also hiring these software companies that monitored 24/7 every tweet every FaceBook page and again even the ones that are only intended for -- -- -- audience. And then sends alerts to coaches whether or not know the -- alcohol is used for example when -- -- so. Again this makes a lot of people uncomfortable because the real world parallel as to how to feel that -- having the right to walk into the a student athletes our campus apartment and say okay -- your friends. Now that have been -- Two to some extent that happened was the year to go to Pennsylvania school district -- school supplied laptops -- -- webcams turned on by stealth. -- in the -- didn't come on anti is that it was that a similar case in that was -- monitoring students basically in their bedrooms. It is well and interestingly with that case I think the in the public outcry was unanimous about the horrible thing to do. This is a little bit more subtle although I certainly think it is -- -- -- it's it's incredibly similar that if you can. You know turn on -- webcam in someone's apartment what's the difference between -- and and knowing what people are saying privately to their friends just because it happens to be using a technology device. And I like going back -- when I write about privacy a lot and I think we we just don't have the right. A social rules in place for any these circumstances it. It's understandable that universities are scared because it's been lots of incidence. -- an athlete might tweet something really done embarrass themselves and -- that he's recently in North Carolina where athlete was tweeting about. All these expensive dinners that he had and he ended up it was clear -- violating. On the professional and amateur online and out and -- -- you know having to leave school as a result of that missiles being investigated so there's a reason that schools. -- interested in this but as that -- lawyer Fred Hsu says those -- crystals it is teach kids how to do the right thing not violate the First Amendment. And that sounds like the ends justifying the means argument and in which -- try not to get too political on the show reveal my own. By c.s but this sounds not to say it's orwellian I think is just so blindly obvious. -- To think that what we do in our private lives. Is I'm no longer base is basically an upright that there is no private life -- it -- which brings up the question in the modern world of work and education. What expectation. Should we have. And should employers respect for our own privacy in the world of of -- Well we really talk about this I think we are a decade behind in having this public conversation. You mention that a lot -- -- -- -- proposed in the House of Representatives -- this week. And -- Potential employee's username and passwords it's obviously it's something that's a terrible idea. But I think that one of the reasons that it failed is because what would really have accomplished that. The line is not really clearly say you can ask for username and password but what could they asked for couldn't ask. But they require you to friend someone that's maybe not quite as dramatic an orwellian level with its close there's already -- recently there was a study that showed that. If you had analysts look at people's public FaceBook page to get the private -- Using public posts -- can actually create something that they. Loosely called Facebook's score and how to predict whether or not -- potential employee would be an employer and an -- Spanish study and it. They please -- to identify things like stick to a new nanos and GE NG reality -- all back and actually -- -- pretty good predictor of whether employees would be good workers. And so is that is. That that's again Akira and and -- lot of money -- company you're gonna use every tool which you can but. Aperture bugs the heck out of me that the company would use a tool that extensive and that invasive. Spent all of these are at least is running continuum and we don't know where that their rates on the continuum is. Well let's go back to that. The law for little bit here because that I can. My perspective on this which I -- like hear your feedback counselor can kind of understand why a law about requiring FaceBook passports about not allowing people to require FaceBook password to separate. Could be struck down because one could argue. That employment law already protects against the gathering of certain types of protected information. Religion the medical status. -- -- is -- and age and there are many things that you cannot ask in a job interview and if you. Are made and got to get access to somebody's personal social network. That information will present itself to you by nature just go to the profile page are ultimately -- -- so so isn't this information. Already protected and that's the argument some of the senators and reps were already making is -- Now you. That -- allowing -- new Lapierre the old laws which need to enforce them and that could very well be -- up. I do think in the digital age and again these issues are squishy and we find one that it is just you know universally accepted. And there's no reason not actually explicitly -- it because of course when -- running room. -- -- -- -- running room and again you know I act against just the -- enough that government agencies and companies. We'll use all the data that they can get their hands on to -- the best assist -- that they can. That's that's what organizations do -- so. If it's not explicitly illegal. They'll do it and by the way a lot of this activity were talking about is legal in places like Europe and Germany you'd Anna -- can't -- look at a citizens. Public FaceBook page to make and -- hiring decision so there are ways and there are societies that are attempting to do this. And net and in ways that protect people's privacy more than the US we tend to be. Pretty hands -- with these privacy issues and -- the market -- works and out I think it's hopeless to think that our free market is going to determine. What's private and what's not in a way -- beneficial to consumers. So the house -- a to prevent the collection of passwords Nam and didn't pass this time through what is the future you think of legislation in in this space. Well there's been forever talk of an updated privacy via an omnibus bill and and it is time for that although I understand that every technologists. Who's listening to this right now credit is at the thought -- members of congress sitting down. And making you know hard decisions about this very complex area -- -- media look at it -- when they do it. I'm but what will we don't have it is is very clear. Rules that -- that empower consumers to know what people know about them and what they can do about it and I think to be really good place it creates a civil right in your opinion for example the record pressing here in the US our -- -- her are very page. And almost always take a backseat to -- -- will. To technology expansion to innovation and even and issues of computer security and privacy people comes last and it's something we really need to talk more about. Well with with that perspective. And is certainly must have some thoughts on what a citizen can do when he or she is applying for a job or scholarship or grant to order. Some kind of -- or something like that knowing that. Their information may be collected. From -- pub ago or semi public profiles on social network from insurance records from. Well for many anywhere any what is your advice for the the news the person the human being in the United States caught up in the middle of this. This confusion. Well well I got some very specific advice right now for a group of people. -- there's really two kinds of people when it comes to privacy. But that there's people who say they care about privacy. And there's people who say they don't care about privacy and and I have nothing to hide that the folks who say they care about privacy as -- two thirds of the US. Practically none of them do anything about it they might say they care about privacy but they'll still. And over their phone number -- grocery store to get one of those discount cards and there's still use easy -- they'll do that they don't change your behavior at all. And that's a little bit naive I get a story with that professor Daniel -- Who wrote a great book called the digital person is a professor GW university and -- the -- -- the story was. Life isn't fair and companies are either. And one of the things that he finds with younger people right now and college students just after college students is -- this. Sensibly and you and -- talk about it and we know we shouldn't have pictures of people doing keg stands and our FaceBook page. The truth is a lot of young people believe you know. What I get when I apply for a job the human resources person that's a person to -- -- -- all this it's not going to be that big deal. And while -- some crazy during his conversation that really is the mindset a lot of younger people that. That ultimately they're -- it is fairly out there and -- I'm gonna promise them they're not. What especially in this economy once somebody has fifty people applying for a job if you're the one with the moderately embarrassing pictures on your FaceBook page you're going to be the first to go up. And this is a harsh reality. Life isn't -- companies aren't either and I think. The basics are where we should really start I I do. I get excited when people are -- really paranoid about what might be construed about them in the future I can conjure up lots of scenarios about. Someone might -- your music tastes here future employment prospects and analysts and you're going to happen but today. I want people to do -- be incredibly conservative but what they put online pictures they -- online what tweaks -- hosts. We -- every day we -- a Spike -- this week people accidentally -- things to get and a whole host of trouble in the future so it's so easy to deal. And if you're young and you don't have a solid job yet. Maybe it's time you drop off the -- -- well it's really important realize. That you're not going to be treated apparently when somebody sees something out of context in the future if I'm -- may. K via a -- of a comparison you know -- this has been some people have talked about what you do online is the digital tech to -- -- -- Walking around and in any city -- any place. A sometimes you see people with crazy tattoos on their neck. And you know that's never going -- least not from inexpensively but from my perspective. That's what those -- the people who make life interesting people are willing to take that risk going to be a little bit crazy -- their youth everybody grows up when where and how it. What you're proposing I have to say sounds like eighty. Conservative milk toast. Socially conservative milk -- boring world where everybody is so concerned. About looking good that they -- who they really are and we end up with a horrible boring world and -- huge thriving undercurrent of society that is totally off the grid and unknown. Am very sorry to do that but I I I think it's the best advice -- can give someone right now. I -- IE I would of course never wanna in person or enrolled -- people but not a boring virtual world I think that's right I think that. Right now we just don't know what things are gonna look like. In 20/20 and we we we don't know what I and I. Somebody can map. The kind of music you download to your likelihood that you'll show up late for work in the future they're going to do it and employment background companies are going to sell it in the very valuable to future of players. So you know frankly the -- that you leave online you just don't know how they're probably gonna cost you in the future and so your best -- Not having them or having as you as you can. What what musical T should we put into her FaceBook profile is to ensure ourselves a better job history in the future well assume that that's actually yet. A that's a good point credit scores and credit reports are really did. -- lesson from what we're talking about right now. The credit score formula is one of the great mysteries of life in America we all have hints as to what it is but it's -- secret sauce like. Fried chicken no one really knows what it is and it has to be secret because if it weren't secret then people would gain. And all of these things and I'm talking about privacy what kinds of things might make you -- future good employee. We're not gonna know what they are -- you won't know if -- -- -- like The Beatles is good or bad for you and only able to tell you that and the minute that you know it will no longer be relevant because the companies will stop selling it. That's the merry go round that were hot in here. They what does FaceBook say and this whole topic we can't be silent on this. Know when it first approached -- they they really know how to respond we spent about Wii going back and forth and and they need me. -- it's a statement that and frankly they wouldn't give me is an official statement they just -- -- to -- their terms of service. Which quite clearly imply that you're not allow either to get your username and password someone. Or that you're not -- -- let someone else watch while you -- your account. -- I think they didn't realize how expensive it was in the names of three or four weeks of the story isn't the recently they published a blog -- which is quite clear where they've said. No giving it -- -- passwords and in fact we stand ready now and it. To do everything we can even legal action to stop employers from doing this it's a real threat -- Facebook's business model. Even if they get a sense that these people are using. -- and can happen to you as an employer has -- hiring person yes if you end up with access to somebody's private data. A -- -- -- talk about the exposure that this opens up to employers. Oh I I can't stress enough what can of worms you're opening up after him -- just for starters -- we'll just acquiring people's user names. And passwords we all know that they're probably using those user names and passwords and other places it. And immediately you're probably subject -- the Federal Trade Commission safeguard rules so you -- credit data you have to take care of it and if you don't you're liable for what happens to it so. Your employer in -- -- -- a cabinet. That -- -- -- people's passwords inevitably someone's gonna steal it and you're going to be a lot of trouble on my page where peninsula -- Additionally distressing when it comes to colleges what you find out when you start rooting around people's private information -- -- around a FaceBook page. You know the example that I was told again and again with our beloved and that terrible murder incident down enough in Virginia. I'll what is the school's athletic compliance officer had access to some tweaks based -- might have hinted that. Then that I -- was going to occur and didn't stop it. We may incur incredible additional liability for not stop not intervening and that the more that you have access to. More reliability that you have -- As an insular I would like -- -- -- attempt at -- -- -- -- compliance officers what's the job description and how do we get a job like that. But it -- it sounds great job for void your or I don't know. You know that's an -- there was a -- right now they have a million rules to follow in as a result in order to keep these programs spelling error. Guys many of them -- to run around making sure that they are wearing their rights and issues that they are not accidentally getting their picture taken with a car dealer. And some of -- might use it isn't in it in an advertisement this is actually beastie Natalie can be can be pretty good. So there are I mean we you know we -- about morals clauses and in sports and a port for TV actors and -- -- movie actors. What is the state of the the moral monitoring of -- public and semi public employees right now in in the social sphere. You know I just don't think that there is one I really neat thing this -- Ms. Stewart which again we -- isn't going on for at least a couple of years. So it's not as -- this is a brand new thing it's just come to light now we've barely scratched the surface talking about it. As -- really have no social mores. I ultimately that's what takes over here and ultimately help that -- we all reacted to this idea is that school trying to webcam on people's homes but has anyone thought it was -- -- -- yet. So I think almost all school district now would would not do better when did it would be a -- superintendent. I hope that's the kind of thing that happens -- this is part -- is what passport situation but it didn't even mention it was a case in Minnesota at twelve Euro. Students who allegedly was having it spat with the teacher and was hauled into the principal's office with a asserts Marshall there who had a -- -- actually. And they demanded that she had -- -- the -- -- -- so that they could see what -- she was saying about the teacher essentially so. So this kind of thing is happening all around the country and again was a twelve -- the same -- of the principal and demand like that but. I am hoping that socially we decide and this is this is a step too far this is like looking in someone's diary which we would never do it -- much -- kind of out. We need compliance compliance officers and I think that's what we need -- -- what's coming up for you what's next in in this developing story. Well I've read about privacy all the time in and you've probably already got a sense of might from -- here which is. There's there's data that's collected now about us and so many different ways like -- what every -- you make a phone call. Every time we use an easy -- every time we get onto a subway of these public transit. And all that data is is is being used and in incredible ways and meaningful lives in some ways in great ways for marketers. A great ways for us to understand ourselves but consumers are last in the bottom. And of having access -- that data from and write it -- to control that data. And it's it's really time that people sit up and said enough is enough that the is valuable it's my property and I can decide what what happens when it. Great Bob thanks very much Bob Sullivan is via -- of the red tape chronicles over MSNBC. If you care about the stuff and you should. You should check that out Bob thanks for your time. Thank you. -- You'll be forced to give up FaceBook access as a condition of getting in new -- If you're applying for job at the Maryland department of corrections you may be asked to -- an -- into your FaceBook account. Poke around and see what the social network looks like from your private perspective. Previously interviewees were even asked to give up their passports. At some colleges in the US students have been required to friend coaches or compliance officers so their lives to be monitored in the social network. While employees and students can always protest these requests if you want the job -- the scholarship. In your ask for access to your private social network you're likely to fuel coerced the event. These reported issues and there are probably others raise important questions around privacy in the delineation between our personal and our professional or public lives. On Wednesday -- -- to prevent employers from asking for passwords failed to win a vote in the House of Representatives. FaceBook though has clearly said that it -- against the terms of service to share your password with others. And at the company will fight this trend in all the ways that can't.