The old adage goes something like; “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer. “While it appears to be unconcerned or is distracted, nibble away one little bit at a time and before it notices – too late, all gone!” With recent revelations about government bureaucracies and organizations collecting massive amounts of data and personal information on citizens communications, many are expressing serious concern and about what appears to be an increasing erosion of personal privacy and individual liberties. The debate hinges on how much intrusion into our personal lives is acceptable in the name of public safety and security. The bombings in Boston was a good example of how video cameras and the utilization of communication investigative techniques can result in increased public security and aid authorities in the apprehension of those who are dedicated to killing and maiming our citizenry. But opponents to these intrusions are bolstered in their argument by some recently revealed privacy issues that indicate that the loss of constitutionally guaranteed rights may be going too far in scope.
In 2012 it was first discovered that many employers and school administrators were requiring employees and students personal login information and passwords to such internet social media sites like; Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Drop box. It seems these instuitions were concerned about what an employee or student may be saying or publishing on the internet about the company, the schools, their bosses or school administrators and whether it just may be damaging to those institutions if left unchecked.
When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password. Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.
Before the onslaught of the communication revolution it would have been akin to having a prospective employer ask to read personal mail, journals or even a secret diary. But since the rise of social networking it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates, and surprisingly few people object out of concern for losing a current job or not being seen as an eligible candidate for a new one.
Employers are not the only ones demanding social media passwords – schools are doing so too, especially athletic departments in colleges and universities, many of which engage in extensive monitoring of the online activities of student athletes. “I think it’s violating the Constitution to have someone give up their password or user name,” said Ronald N. Young, a Maryland state senator who has sponsored a bill that would make it harder for universities to monitor their athletes online. “It’s like reading their mail or listening to their phone calls,” alas, it appears that even some career politicians are beginning to be concerned for the rights of individuals.
In response to all the attention to the issue, many states have engaged in a barrage of legislative activity over the past two years. More than 10 states now have laws, and legislation is pending in about 35 other states to curb the intrusion into people’s lives and personal business. The concern is that many employers and administrators do not seem to be fully aware of the constitutional implications of asking for access to personal online accounts, and to many outside observers the apparent wide-spread level of ignorance is surprising. It is really very simple; demanding that employees or students give up their security access to personal online accounts is most likely a violation of the 1st and 4th amendments of the Constitution.
Many protectors speak of balance when debating rights verses security, but our current legal system already addresses those concerns by applying constitutional protections such as warrants and judicial review of such seizures of private material and personal thoughts. Purposely calling for an end-run around those protections elevates the debate to the level of questioning which is more dangerous to public safety and individual liberty; the criminals and terrorist or those connivers who are methodically eating away at the elephant, or in this case, our personal freedoms?
How far is too far? And at what point do we bring back another once common adage, “It’s none of your business, thank you!”