THE case of a teacher's aide in Michigan who was suspended after refusing to provide the school superintendent access to her Facebook account might be the most publicly documented case of an employer snooping on social media. It’s not really clear just how rampant this practice might be – or if it is rampant at all – but filing online privacy protection legislation in state legislatures has become almost a religious tenet.
Earlier this month, Maryland passed the nation's first Social Media Privacy Protection bill, seeking to prohibit employers from coercing prospective and current employees to surrender their passwords to their social media accounts. The California State Assembly followed suit shortly. The U.S. Senate has joined the fray by the recent introduction of the Password Protection Act of 2012, while an identical bill is still being debated in the House of Representatives. More similar proposals are pending in different states.
Guam won’t be outdone. Pending in the Legislature is Bill 439, dubbed the “Right to Privacy in the Workplace.” I am not aware of any actual case of local employers nosing around their employees’ online personal affairs. Guam is a small community characterized by zero-to-two degrees of separation. Curious employers need not demand the password to their employees’ social media account; anyone can be a password to anyone’s personal life (not that it’s condonable). But just the same, the Guam Legislature simply won’t be left out of the ostensible mania.
These proposals might sound a bit feeble, but certainly there is a basis for our paranoia. We now live in an Orwellian world that is more 1984 than 1984. And we, ordinary mortals, try to control what we can still control as far as our privacy is concerned.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, a proposal to allow the sharing of Internet traffic information between the U.S. government and certain technology and manufacturing companies. It suggests that our personal information is government property. The stated intent of the bill is to help the federal government detect and investigate cyber threats and guard the security of networks against cyber attack.
And then there are the bigger cyber monsters: the hackers, the spammers and corporate leviathans. These invisible creepy sleuths stalk us whenever we open our browser.
“There are no secrets online. That emotional email you sent to your ex, the illness you searched for in a fit of hypochondria, those hours spent watching kitten videos can all be gathered to create a defining profile of you,” columnist Kate Murphy wrote in the May 2 issue of the New York Times. “Your information can then be stored, analyzed, indexed and sold as a commodity to data brokers who in turn might sell it to advertisers, employers, health insurers or credit rating agencies,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s article, entitled “How to Muddy Your Tracks on the Internet,” suggested a list of services, along with their price tags, that supposedly allow you to elude trackers on the Internet.
“These services, whose prices price from $40 to $90 a year, route your data stream to what is called a proxy server, where it is stripped of your I.P. address before it is sent on to its destination. This obscures your identity not only from websites, but also from your Internet service provider,” Murphy wrote.
There can be as many laws as lawmakers wish to punish Big Bother employers, but the sad reality is that we don't own our privacy anymore. It has become a commodity for sale. You have to buy it before it goes out to the market.