It is something that will give privacy advocates a fit, and no doubt cause consternation amongst those who are already cynical about labour laws being in favour of the employer.
In America there are literally a dozen or so levels of law enforcement – there’s your county cop, your state trooper, city cop, DEA, FBI, ATF, local DA’s office, Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Secret Service and a bevy of others that I can’t be bothered going into. So if you are looking for a job in that arena, then there are a lot of avenues you can head down.
However, as well as the usual background checks, referees and good grades, some agencies are going one step further when recruiting – they want your Facebook, Twitter and MySpace details so they can check on your online behaviour.
This is a double edged sword. Do you have that inherent right to privacy, and what you do outside of working hours is your business as long as it does not interfere with your work (ie, if you were a city cop, but had a sideline shifting stolen goods, then investigation is warranted)? Already some agencies have ‘weeded’ out a few potential recruits. One Massachusetts police chief rejected an applicant because he had posted on a messageboard that he had had suicidal tendencies in years gone by, while another was rejected in Florida for a racial tirade on Facebook.
And this is where it becomes very controversial because it comes down to subjective levels. The former example I can see as being a harsh outcome, while the latter (if the racial tirade was against a particular ethnic group) I can see being just – I mean who wants a person who can possibly be responsible for somebody getting a criminal record in charge when they have inbuilt prejudices?
Advocates of the system – the law enforcement agencies – claim they are covering their backs. There have been a raft of incidents over the past 1-2 years where employees have done really dumb acts online – from Domino Pizza employees posting YouTube videos of themselves doing stupid things to pizzas, through to sexual predators pretending to be somebody they are not. This adds weight to their argument that a law enforcement officer’s online behaviour – if not at a certain standard – could open them up to all sorts of defence lawyer questions if they are put on the stand.
Yet there is a bigger issue here. It’s called the fundamental freedom of privacy, and that what you do outside work hours – as long as it is legal – is your business. As the saying goes, what is one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Another example where a candidate was rejected was in New Jersey where he posted pictures of himself with scantily clad women. Is this truly offensive behaviour unbecoming of a law enforcement officer? That aside, what if ALL employers want to take up this kind of screening. There is a little voice nagging at the back of head saying “You know, with a few reservations I get the cops wanting to do this. However, getting a job in a retail outlet, working in a factory, driving a bus, being a carpenter, accountant, or whatever, what business is it of theirs?”
But the biggest, and most worrying aspect, is Facebook. The company has recently announced that they are adding email to its services. Will this mean that if a potential employer is interested in offering you a job but want details of your social networking accounts they can scroll through your emails on Facebook? Sorry, that is just a step too far for me.
Privacy advocates have always used the ‘slippery slope’ argument to an almost ridiculous degree when debating such issues. “Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile” they say. In this case, they’d be taking more than a mile, it could be your livelihood.