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Welch pushes social media privacy bill - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Welch pushes social media privacy bill

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Most people check Facebook religiously -- looking for the latest gossip, photos and friend requests. But what if your boss or prospective employer also wanted a peek -- or even worse -- your password?

"I wouldn't consider working for a company that would be that invasive," said Ryan Humke, one of those concerned about online privacy.

But Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said companies across the country are doing just that -- forcing job applicants to log onto Facebook and Twitter accounts during interviews and requiring social media passwords on job applications. "Turning over a password means that your whole account belongs to your employer," Welch said.

"If a prospective employer finds out you go to a mosque, finds out you had an abortion when you were younger, finds out that you have kids, maybe the employer is going to wonder what kind of employee is this going to be," said Allen Gilbert with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Personal information the ACLU said is typically off limits, but could surface if companies have unfettered access to private accounts.

"I teach my students that anything they put online is public access, so don't put anything inappropriate up there. That said, I'd prefer if my employer did not look at that stuff," said Sean Prentiss, a professor at Norwich University.

"I don't think many Vermont employers do it, but bottom line -- this is the type of thing that is the perfect remedy with legislation," Rep. Welch said.

Rep. Welch said his Password Protection Act prevents companies from asking to see data that is private, like photo albums shared only with friends and curbs fishing expeditions into employees' online lives.

"This stuff that somebody posts on Facebook should be considered personal information and should be treated the way a diary or personal letters would be treated," Allen Gilbert said.

But employment lawyer Stacey Cushner opposes the legislation. She believes companies should know who they're hiring and said as long as they outline privacy policies in employment handbooks they can check employees accounts. "It doesn't feel great for employee or a prospective employee but it can be within the bounds of what's acceptable under privacy statutes," she said.

Unless Welch's legislation becomes federal law, the practice is perfectly legal.

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