ITeam Report: Protecting Your Secrets

February 18, 2013 6:23:55 PM PST
Would you give your supervisor at work a key to your house? How about letting your boss rip through the mail delivered to your home?

Every day across Chicagoland and from coast to coast, people are required to turn over their social media passwords that results in employers being able to do just that: open up your private life and examine the contents.

"It's an issue that a lot of companies are concerned about how their employees are portraying the company on social media," said Matt Pfeffer, business consultant.

From Facebook to Pinterest; Twitter to LinkedIn; MySpace, Google Plus and even You Tube: the days of companies simply being concerned about employees making personal phone calls are long gone.

Employers are now routinely asking for internet passwords from their workers.

"This seemed to be a much broader practice than anybody had heard," said Ed Yohnka, American Civil Liberties Union.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting the corporate seizure of employee passwords. But as employers increasingly expect their workers to be on social media, they also expect to exert control over what employees put out for the social media public to see.

"There is no reason that your employer should be able to see what you're doing outside of work if it does not affect them," said Mark Bubien, client service rep.

Many companies, especially public agencies, even ask prospective hires for their passwords to check social media postings for racist, sexist or pornographic postings. Some firms make applicants sign into social media during interviews and page through personal accounts.

"It's a terrible precedent. It's a terrible position to put people in," said Yohnka.

And on January 1st, Illinois will put a stop to it when this little-known law goes into effect prohibiting companies from requiring employees to surrender their social media passwords. The password law does not list any social media exceptions or state that it applies only to certain kinds of social media accounts.

"I think it is wise for the governor and legislature have acted to stop this practice in Illinois even if it hasn't been stopped around the country yet," said Yohnka.

"It's like asking for a key to your house," said US Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D) North Suburbs.

Congresswoman Schakowsky wants Illinois upcoming law made the law of the land and is sponsoring similar legislation here on Capitol Hill.

"There are boundaries that need to be set," said Schakowsky. "What the legislation does is protects employees, prospective employees but also students and prospective students so we cover universities and student bodies. But it also covers, as the Illinios legislation does, not only access to social media but your email password."

Congress last upgraded tech privacy laws in 1985, before most people were even on the Internet. The ACLU and others see a need for sweeping changes in federal law. But even with your passwords safe from your employer in the new year, that doesn't mean that your information is private. If you put it on the Internet and someone really wants to see it, they will.