Big Brother Wants Your Facebook Password

Posted by By at 3 April, at 07 : 53 AM Print

I was in Florida a couple weeks ago, and purchased a SunPass – like an EZ-Pass to most of the rest of the East Coast states, except EZ-Pass doesn’t work in Florida. They have their own thing going down there, and they’re not sharing.

Of course, one can drive the Florida Turnpike without a SunPass. The state also has Photo Billing, with which it has replaced humans in toll booths. Gone is the toll-taker with whom you could have a slow-down and human contact on a long trip via interstate highway. Instead, you go speeding through (no need to slow down in Florida) beneath an array of cameras and have your picture taken.

And if your car does not have a working SunPass, the registered owner of your license plate will get a bill from the state – plus a couple bucks “administration fee.”

We have become inured to cameras following us around. Banks have them, as do most retail stores. They’re in casinos, some restaurants, next to many traffic lights, and most big league sports stadiums.

California has a law that allows police to search the cell phone of a person arrested. As a journalist, I’ve seen many police reports in which a person was arrested, and then searched “for officer safety.” Apparently, in California, cell phones are considered dangerous weapons.

I mention those seemingly innocuous points because technological intrusion has been in the news lately.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if the FBI attaches a GPS tracker to your car, there better be a court-approved search warrant on an agent’s desk. So far, there is no legal objection to tracking a cell phone.

Cell phone technology has advanced to the degree emergency service dispatchers can, in many areas, pretty well nail down the location of a phone from which someone is calling to report a need for ambulance, fire or police response. Some of the technology uses built-in GPS, which, unlike the GPS we are familiar with in our cars, is capable of reporting where we are, even when our phone is, we think, turned off.

Cell phone cloning and eavesdropping used in shows such as “Person of Interest” and “Leverage” make the uses look like something out of science fiction novels. They are not, unfortunately for those who object to the idea of Big Brother – a term, by the way, from George Orwell’s “1984,” a tale in which threatening technologies and government policies were given less objectionable names and cameras were installed in every room of every home.

It turns out it really is possible for someone with the appropriate technology to turn our telephone into a microphone with which to listen to our conversations. Bad luck for bad guys; invasion of privacy for most of us.

Still, many of us consider the benefits and ignore the intrusions. It’s a good thing to allow the ambulance to find you when you don’t know where you are, identify terrorists intent on blowing up a Superbowl game, catch scofflaws who run red lights, nab drug dealers on a street corner or charge non-residents for driving on a state’s turnpike.

But employers asking for personal Facebook passwords – allowing the employer to view information to which the user intends to restrict access – is tantamount to asking permission to stand in a corner of our bedrooms. A practice which once was used to enforce laws about certain sexual practices is now being used to learn whether a person doesn’t like his boss, or has a tattoo in a place visible only to very close friends.

“It speaks to the quality of our employees,” a deputy sheriff said in a recent news report.

I submit it speaks more to how badly the job applicant wants a job.

Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether asking for Facebook passwords is a violation of federal law.

It probably is not, considering recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings. It should be.

We need to get our state lawmakers to at least make it illegal here.

Photo by Hervé KERNEIS


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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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