It is very rare that we mix politics with technology in the writing of this publication and on our show, however there are times where it becomes a necessity in order to explain what is happening in the ever-evolving world of the Internet. Last week, Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director for LAPTOP Magazine, discussed on our show in his weekly Piltch Point segment about an article he wrote where employers are asking employees and candidates for their Facebook and other social network passwords. While Facebook has come out and said they don't agree with the practice, because of a lack of law that prevents this practice, employers are trying to make it a common question during the interview process.
This obviously brings up several problems and one would imagine asking for a password like that would be the same as asking someone's age or asking if it's okay to put a camera in their house for a week during the interview process. As you could guess, now the government wants to get involved and decide one way or the other if something should be done about this.
What happened in our nation's capital this week? The story is after the break.
Inside the House of Representatives, an addition was proposed during a debate about reforming the FCC and its practices. A document (source link below) was proposed and sent back to the committee for approval.
1 SEC. 5. PROTECTING THE PASSWORDS OF ONLINE USERS.
2 Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this
3 Act shall be construed to limit or restrict the ability of
4 the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a rule
5 or to amend an existing rule to protect online privacy, in
6 cluding requirements in such rule that prohibit licensees
7 or regulated entities from mandating that job applicants
8 or employees disclose confidential passwords to social net
9 working web sites.
Representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado even added his take on the matter saying that,
If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password... People have an expectation of privacy!
Aside from the fact that an amendment could have simply been proposed to be voted on rather than have a document sent back to the reform committee first, everything else about the matter could have made perfect sense. However, this rule would have been in place for the FCC only and would not have affected the agencies that are asking for the passwords to begin with.
Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon responded to Perlmutter and said,
I think it's awful that employers think they can demand our passwords and can go snooping around. There is no disagreement with that. Here is the flaw: Your amendment doesn't protect them. It doesn't do that. Actually, what this amendment does is say that all of the reforms that we are trying to put in place at the Federal Communications Commission, in order to have them have an open and transparent process where they are required to publish their rules in advance so that you can see what they're proposing, would basically be shoved aside. They could do whatever they wanted on privacy if they wanted to, and you wouldn't know it until they published their text afterward. There is no protection here.
In the end, because of the misplaced intent of the amendment, the House rejected the document by a vote of 185 to 236, split very much down the party-line with 183 Democrats voting for the amendment and 234 Republicans voting against. I guess the good part here is that we may possibly see something in place that makes asking for a social network password the same as asking if someone is pregnant or their sexual orientation.
Want to see the proposal? I know everyone always misses the good shows on C-SPAN, so we have the clip here.
As a side note, the original FCC reform measurement that is asking the agency to be more transparent in their operations, was approved 247 to 174 but has not cleared the US Senate as of yet.