Lawmakers look to protect online privacy of job applicants

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington

Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington

That mortifying Facebook photo you were tagged in last week? May not be such a deal-breaker after all.

Vermont lawmakers want to shield the social media profiles of job applicants from the prying eyes of their would-be employers.

For the second year in a row, Sen. Dick Sears is pushing a legislation that would make it illegal for employers to request from job seekers their passwords to Facebook, Twitter and other social network accounts.

Sears said he’s unaware of any instances of Vermiont employers demanding access to applicants’ online profiles as a condition of employment. He said reports of the trend nationally, however, merit some proactive steps in the Green Mountains.

“It’s sort of like saying, when you come in for your interview, bring your diary with you, and we’re goig to read your diary,” Sears said Tuesday. “Something was amiss here.”

Vermont isn’t the first jurisdiction to tackle the issue of undue invasions of online privacy by human-resources personnel hunting for skeletons in online closets.Federal lawmakers last year considered a ban on the practice; in September, California enacted legislation prohibiting employers from requesting passwords to social media accounts.

“It’s a practice that has (increased) over the past five yrs and I actually know younger people coming into the job market who are naïve … and who are asked as a matter of course to provide Facebook and Twitter password information, the rationale being that company didn’t want to be embarrassed, and you have nothing to hide, right?” Sen. Philip Baruth said.

Commissioner of Human Resources Kate Duffy said the administration supports the bill, on the condition that it waive the prohibition on online scrutiny for applicants to the Vermont State Police.

“Background checks for these individuals is fairly significant,” Duffy said. “I think we hold troopers to a higher level and do kinds of checks on troopers we don’t do with the average state employee.”