Facebook Privacy Politics: Democrats Wield Employer Restrictions Against GOP

Apr 5, 2012 7:00am

A Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona is campaigning to stop bosses from being able to demand their employees’ Facebook passwords, a week after House Democrats included a privacy provision in a procedural vote.

Facebook passwords have become a hot-button issue after a string of news reports about bosses demanding access to the Facebook accounts of prospective employees. ABC’s “World News” reported last week on a job applicant, Justin Basset, who was asked by a New York consulting firm to hand over his Facebook password or give up his chance to work there. This week, a Michigan teacher’s aide was suspended for declining to supply her password to the school where she works, after she posted a slightly risque photo sent to her by a friend.

Dr. Richard Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general under president George W. Bush who is running for Senate as a Democrat in Arizona, wants to make a campaign issue out of social-networking privacy.

Carmona has attacked his likely general-election opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for a procedural vote on employer-related Facebook privacy. A new website, created and paid for by Carmona’s campaign, demands that Flake disclose his Facebook password and allows users to “dislike” Flake with a thumbs-down button (a feature that doesn’t exist on the real Facebook).

But Flake didn’t actually vote for employers’ right to demand Facebook passwords, as the website seems to insinuate. As always with procedural votes in Congress, it’s complicated.

As Republicans pressed their Federal Communications Commission reform bill through the House last week over Democratic opposition, Democrats used their last procedural recourse to force a vote on employee Facebook privacy. Democrats proposed returning the bill to committee with nonbinding instructions to add an amendment that would clarify the FCC’s authority to rule against employers being able to demand social-networking passwords. Such procedural moves, known as “motions to recommit,” are the minority party’s last chance to stop a majority-backed bill; they typically fail.

Flake voted against the measure, along with all but one Republican. The GOP-backed FCC bill passed last Tuesday on a largely partisan vote. Neither Flake’s campaign nor his congressional office responded to requests for comment about the congressman’s views on employers and Facebook privacy.

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