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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 27 2012

Minnesota bill would put Facebook off-limits to employers

ST. PAUL – Conservative and liberal Minnesota legislators are combining efforts to stop a business practice they say invades job applicants’ privacy.

National reports in recent days have told of employers, both private and public, demanding potential employees’ passwords for social-networking websites. The employers then have access to personal information of the job applicant.

“We want to protect the privacy of those job seekers,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said of her bill.

“It’s a huge invasion of privacy,” added Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing.

The issue brings together some of the most conservative lawmakers, like Franson, and those among the most liberal, such as Melin and other Democrats who co-sponsor the newly introduced bill. They join the American Civil Liberties Union and Google in opposing the practice.

“In recent months, we’ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people’s Facebook profiles or private information,” Google privacy officer Erin Egan wrote recently in a blog. “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.”

Often information available on such sites includes some that it is illegal for potential employers to ask, such as marital status and if the person has children.

“What right do they have?” Franson asked.

Young people often publish personal information to public Internet sites, Franson said. The media often reports about posts from years earlier.

“This is a great thing to teach your kids,” Franson said. “It’s going to hurt you the rest of your life.”

North Dakota lawmakers have also caught wind of the reported trend. Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said he visited with legislative council earlier this week about how North Dakota’s laws and labor commission would handle a complaint of an employer requiring access to the online profiles of a worker or job applicant.

“The internal debate during the research is whether access to a social-networking profile would allow an employer to learn the candidate’s age, gender, race, religion, marital status or other protected information that cannot be used in making a hiring decision,” Mock said.

He said no legislation has been drafted yet, but research is being conducted to determine if legislation may be necessary. He said he’s heard some concern from constituents.

While most legislative deadlines in Minnesota have passed, Franson said she hopes her bill can be amended onto another bill and passed this session. Melin said at least the bill opens discussion on the topic so next year’s Legislature could take action.

Teri Finneman, a multimedia correspondent for Forum Communications Co., contributed to this report.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns

The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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