ACLU Warns Va. Police Against Facebook Snooping

Wednesday, 28 Mar 2012 08:53 AM

By Greg McDonald

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is warning the Virginia State Police not to poke around in the Facebook or other social media accounts of trooper applicants, which has become a growing trend nationwide among private and public employers.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia ACLU sent a letter Tuesday to Virginia State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty asking him to stop forcing applicants to reveal their private communications as part of the hiring process.

The letter said the practice, known as “shoulder surfing,” was a possible violation of a federal law protecting stored electronic information. It also may violate the First Amendment protecting free speech and the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Absent a concrete reason to believe that a potential employee is engaged in wrongdoing of which his Facebook account is likely to contain evidence, these communications are simply none of the VSP’s business,” Virginia ACLU Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg wrote in the letter.

“Looking at this information is akin to opening an applicant’s mail or listening in on his telephone calls,” she said. “Such eavesdropping intrudes on the privacy of not only the job applicant, but his online friends and correspondents.”

In response, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told the Times-Dispatch the agency plans to continue with the practice, despite the threat of a possible lawsuit.

“As we have stated before, we feel our investigative background process is necessary and appropriate for the job our applicants are expected to do,” she said.

Forcing job applicants to give up Facebook passwords and other private information has become a huge issue nationwide.

Two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, have asked the Justice Department to investigate the practice.

At least four state legislatures are also considering bills this year that would bar public agencies from requiring access to applicants’ social media accounts.

Several of the bills would also apply to email and would prevent employers from hiding their identities in an attempt to gain access to Facebook accounts. 

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