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Michigan Teachers’s Aide Fired for Not Giving Up Facebook Password

April 2, 2012

Ah, it would be Michigan, wouldn’t it?  Michigan which has seemed even more inanely legally backwater than possible lately, has reached the upper echelons of the news’ networks when a former teacher’s aide reported that she had been fired for refusing to relinquish her Facebook password.  Oh goody, now all Michiganders get to look like morons as this case winds its way through the courts.  The premise:  a teacher’s aide made the admittedly poor decision to post a picture of a co-worker’s pants and ankles on her page and was fired for not giving the admin her password.

There are so many troubling issues to the story, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Do we malign the fact that someone is taking alleged bathroom photos at work of another person’s feet and pants? Do we know if the photo was taken or posted from work?  Who the hell posts bathroom pictures anyway?  And why did the admin believe that it was a reasonable assumption to require a form of password relinquishing for job security?  The cognitive stumbling blocks here are staggering. It reads like a story of Darwin’s classrooms.  I suppose I would be laughing much harder if the person weren’t from Michigan.

The issue of schools demanding passwords, employers demanding passwords, and all sorts of invasions of privacy violations could ultimately  hurt Facebook’s bottom line, and Facebook knows this. While it’s arguable that an administration could demand investigation into an employee’s on-line actions if the company felt said employee’s actions were criminal or affected the work relationship (and this is a truly insubstantial argument), it is definitely an invasion of a person’s friend’s privacy to read his or her information.  It’s only a matter of time before some disgruntled user slaps Facebook with an injury lawsuit, and the game is all over.

Facebook could very well lose all if its consumers suddenly have shared liability with “friends” on Facebook.  It’s one of the top reasons I don’t have a Facebook account.  You may be friends with people, but do you really want to share their risk?  Facebook has issued a statement defending user privacy:

In an update on the website, company Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan talked about how alarming the practice is, and how it compromises the privacy of everyone on your friend list, along with your own. According to Egan: “It is important that everyone on Facebook understands they have a right to keep their password to themselves.” In fact, if you take a look at Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, it’s a violation to share your password with anyone else.

Meanwhile, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is currently writing a bill to prohibit any employer from ever practicing the unspeakable policy. The Senator told the website Politico that he is deeply troubled by this tactic, and that his bill would be ready very soon.

Now here comes the sad part: Michigan, with it’s paid-for judicial system, has let industry buy its judicial influence and come out against consumer privacy.  (Please, please can we Michiganders have some federal investigation on the Michigan judiciary’s corruption and campaign donations =  judicial favor?) But,why hide behind our shame here in good ole Michigan?  Why not put it out there for everyone?

Several politicians including Michigan’s own State Representatives Aric Nesbitt and Matt Lori have been pushing for bills that will make the breach of privacy an illegal practice. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been going very well for them — the House of Representatives recently rejected a legislation that would protect your passwords from employers’ prying eyes.

This is by no means a finished discussion.  More legislation will be crafted, and most likely the discussion will center on whether or not the publication of material on Facebook is, in fact, considered public information.  One could argue that since the customers must sign in with a password, they have the inferred promise that their information will not be made public, that there is a form of intellectual copyright implied or perhaps included with account log-ins.  That said, does Facebook monitor its users’ contents?  Nursing moms have had pictures removed by Facebook staff, pushing the argument more in favor of a form of ownership of material “published” by Facebook, which could make them uniquely liable for information leaks, firings, or other actions taken as a result of an access to information not granted by the user.

The happy quagmire created by information technology steamily coupled with one’s friends’ treachery makes for almost illicit fodder.  Lead the way, Michiganders, and we may well lead the race for employers first to get sued for firings related to the refusal to relinquish password information.  Unless, of course, some court determines that passwords really are simply an illusion of privacy and a property right or privacy right not worth protecting in the courts, in which case, tally ho on-line banking system.  For once, you may be out to rescue us poor sots  hoping to keep bathroom shots out of public domain.

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