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Lawmakers want to keep Facebook passwords private

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By Don Davis

State Capitol Bureau

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

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National reports in recent days have told of employers, both private and public, demanding passwords for social Internet sites potential employees use. 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 about 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 in a Friday blog. "This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends."

Facebook and other social networking sites make some information available to the general public, but more personal is available with people who have an account's password.

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.

The outspoken conservative said information that could be obtained includes political affiliation or whether an applicant parties a lot.

"Our personal life is our personal life," Franson said.

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

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

With jobs hard to find in Minnesota, Melin said, this is not the time to hamper people from getting jobs. However, she added, she has not heard about people in her area being asked to share passwords with potential employers.

"Employers are using this to weed people out," Melin said.

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

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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