Other States Have Proposed Similar Legislation

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A new bill could make it illegal for employers to snoop around on their employees’ private Facebook pages.

The City Council held a hearing Wednesday on an Internet privacy bill, which would ban employers from demanding access to the social media accounts of current or prospective employees.

“There needs to be a limit on what an employer can see in your personal life and they can’t force people to give up their passwords and their secrets and their diaries and their lies just to apply for a job,” Councilman Mark Weprin (D-23rd) said.

As CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leinter reported the legislation could change the way companies conduct background checks.

As we all know, Facebook, Tumblr and LinkedIn each give prying eyes a glimpse into users’ personal lives.

“Facebook kind of blurs the line between a person’s social life and their work life,” Neal Ramlakhan said.

And some City Council members said it is not appropriate for employers to require access to their employees’ pages.

“It’s an invasion of workers privacy,” Councilwoman Annabel Palma (D-18th.) said

Palma proposed the Internet Passwords Bill, which is backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and other council members.

“You shouldn’t be allowed to dig into people’s lives and ask for a password, and make people feel like a criminal if they don’t give up their password,” Weprin said. “It’s like asking for someone’s diary.”

Just about everyone is on social media these days, and more and more employers are using sites like Facebook to do background checks on prospective employees.

Brooklyn Law School graduate Sarah DeStefano, 26, told the City Council that she was denied a job at an upstate district attorney’s office because she refused to friend her potential boss on her Facebook page.

“He stated he would be adding me as a friend using the office Facebook account,’ DeStefano said,

DeStefano said she asked what her prospective employer wanted to look at.

“He said he wanted to go through my pictures and posts and information I had listed,” she said.

She refused, and did not get the job.

“I honestly have nothing to hide, no embarrassing pictures or extreme Facebook posts, but I still just didn’t feel comfortable with it,” DeStefano testified.

Councilwoman Palma said there is plenty of information available to the public about job candidates, and there’s nothing to stop employers for using that information in the screening process.

“You’re private life should remain your private life,” Palma told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.

Opinions on the bill varied among New Yorkers.

“If I was an employer, I would definitely check someone’s Facebook,” said Oliver Hasbun. “It tells a lot about you.”

“I think an employer has a right to kind of have a peek into someone’s online profile,” said Bob Crawford, formerly of the East Village.

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“I think it’s definitely a good way to see how a person really is, but people put a lot of things out there that they don’t want employers to see,” a John Jay College student said.

“I think employers should look at whatever is out there in the public,” one woman said. “Whatever is out there, they should be able to get access.”

“I think it’s an overreach by the city. Whatever is in the public space, your employer should be able to look at it, and you should have the common sense not to put anything that you wouldn’t want your employer to know,” one man said.

But some agreed with the council members that peering at social media accounts is an invasion of privacy.

“I don’t think they should look at it. What’s on Facebook doesn’t affect how you do your job. It has no reference,” one man said.

And out of everyone CBS 2 asked, only one person was willing to open up his own personal Facebook page to our prying eyes.

“You picked the wrong guy to find something embarrassing,” the man said.

If the bill passes, it will be up to each individual to report violations to the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Last March, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for a federal investigation after reports emerged about employers asking candidates for Facebook passwords during job interviews.

Last June, the New Jersey Assembly approved two measures aimed at stopping employers and schools from asking for social media passwords.

In all, 36 states have proposed similar legislation, and 10 states already have passed laws banning employer access to social media.

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