Nebraska employers could not require employees or job applicants to disclose their passwords to Facebook or other social networking sites, under a proposal heard by the Business and Labor Committee Monday.
The proposal, LB58, is sponsored by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill. It would prohibit employers from requiring employees or potential employees to turn over their passwords; to log on to their social networking sites while the employer was watching, or to get access to those sites indirectly through friends. Larson said the bill is needed to protect people’s privacy. "Just because we have new technologies, does that mean that an individual loses their individual liberties or their rights to privacy?" he asked. "I don’t think so."
Lawyer Alan Peterson, speaking for ACLU Nebraska, supported the proposal. Peterson said it would help protect employers from their own "snoopiness." He gave examples of illegal job interview questions relating to citizenship, parental status, or age, among others.
"You can’t ask those. But if you could require somebody to turn over their passwords, you can learn the answers to most of these," Peterson said. "And so if there’s a lawsuit – let’s say you don’t hire that person, or demote them, whatever – you’ve just created, by your snoopiness into their background, some of the early first steps to prove a case of discrimination."
Grand Island Police Chief Steve Lamken opposed the bill on behalf of the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska. Lamken talked about one policeman whose activity on Facebook concerned his fellow officers. "He posted negative comments about his fellow shift officers using derogatory remarks and profanity, and made the statement that he didn’t care if they died. In another post he made derogatory remarks about citizens he served, and in one described a citizen using derogatory remarks and profanity," Lamken said.
Lamken said the department initiated action against the officer. But because it gained access to his postings through other officers who were his social media friends, that would have been illegal under the bill. Senators agreed the bill needs more consideration and work before being advanced.
Monday also marked the first day of debate by the whole Legislature in this year’s session. While the bills discussed were largely uncontroversial, they provided an opportunity for Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers to speak. "Mr. President, members of the Legislature: I’m back," Chambers began. "As I was saying before I was quite rudely interrupted by term limits, there are some things that I want to say and get into the record."
Chambers was in office 38 years, becoming the longest-serving state legislator in Nebraska history, before being forced out by term limits four years ago. Now 75, he said the fact that people reach a certain age should not prevent them from participating, as long as their mind is clear.
Chambers had a message for freshman senators as well. "I want to say, since I’m one of the new kids on the block, we have an obligation to participate in the activities of the Legislature. The fact that we are newly here does not mean we have less status, less right, or fewer prerogatives that those who have been here forever."