Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's times like these

In this brave new world we inhabit, technology advances daily. There is always something new being developed, marketed, absorbed into our society as a necessary requirement to function.

How many people under the age of 65 can you think of who don't have cell phones?  I'd venture a guess that most of us could probably count them on one hand, if we could think of anyone at all.

Five years ago, the iPhone had not yet been publicly released.  Today, it is the main technology pushing the boundaries of mobile communication.  Phones aren't phones anymore, they do everything from keep us on schedule, entertain us with games and movies and music, store all our important information, hold our photographed memories, wake us up and turn the lights on in our homes remotely.

If there's something you can think of that you phone can't do, give it a few months.  Somewhere, someone is making an app for that.

We live in a world that expects and demands constant connection.  We are to be reachable at all times, 24/7. For the emergencies and for the mundane.  We are connected.

Part of that connection for most people anymore is Facebook, the social networking utility that has completely redefined what a friend is.   Now, you can pull people from your childhood and college and work and every other aspect of your life and put them in one place, demanding their attention at anytime you want it.  You can spy on people, get a voyeuristic glance into their lives.  You can market yourself.  You can share important milestones with people too far away to share them in person.  You can make your life appear greater, more successful, more whatever than it is.

You can make mistakes in real time, get tagged in compromising pictures, reconnect with people you know you shouldn't.  You can spout controversial opinions, you can wage war on other's beliefs, you can stump for hatred and bigotry.  You can do all this and more, with just a keyboard and a few bars of signal strength.

Facebook is a whole new world of connection and anonymity rolled into one.   It's all that and more, but it's a legal conundrum as well.

To a certain degree, what you post is public, depending on your privacy settings.  As such, anything that is viewable by anyone should be held to the same standards as anything else that happens in public....essentially, you have little to no claim of privacy under the law.

All the rest of it though, the things you set up privacy blocks for, the things that are filtered and sent only to people by your discretion, the images you place on the system, but only share with a few intentionally...are they not subject to privacy protection?  Shouldn't they be?

Clearly, my argument is yes, they should.

Many employers take a different approach, though.  They think they are entitled to the information about the bits and pieces of your life. They assume they can legally ask you to just hand over your user ID and password as a condition of employment, or require you to friend them.  

They claim it is justified because they need to ensure that who you are in your private life needs to be a reflection of who you are at work, and if the two are incompatible, you will not be hired or be allowed to keep your job.

What are potential employees to do?  Refuse to hand over the information and never get hired?  Comply and roll the dice as to what those hiring deem acceptable?  Set up secret second identities just for this purpose?

Of course I would make the argument that you shouldn't be putting anything on Facebook that could be seen as incriminating, derogatory, embarrassing or offensive.  (If you haven't already, friending a family member usually will do the trick to reign in your posting anyway.)

But what if you did and someone took a screen shot before you could delete it?  Or what if someone else tagged you in a compromising photo and you didn't have a chance to un-tag yourself before your boss checked up on you?  Should you lose your job because of that?  Should they be able to fire you because of that?  Should they even have the legal right to be checking at all?

I don't believe that they do.

There are certainly jobs that require security clearances and have legitimate needs to ensure that their employees are who they say they are.  Those are the exception, though, not the rule.  Most of those jobs have had stricter requirements on their employees forever as it is, and are not instituting any new demands upon their workers.   The success of failure of the vast majority of companies will never hinge on whether an employee got trashed last weekend and took some stupid pictures.

Some states have already taken legislative steps that would ban this practice, as it is an obvious invasion of privacy.

A Facebook user who installs privacy blocking on their page has a reasonable expectation that their information will not be accessible by just anyone, including their boss.  That right should be protected.

The trouble is that the law almost never proactively deals with issues like this one.  We live in a scientifically advanced, but legally reactive society.  The law is always playing catch-up with science.  In the meantime, people will be denied employment and others will lose their jobs for refusing to comply with these new policies.

Why does anyone think they have the right to invade someone else's private life in the first place?

That one, I'll never understand.

Then again, I am a flaming liberal.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Some of My Most Popular Posts