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Big Brother is Watching You on Facebook

In his classic novel, 1984, George Orwell described a society in which the government had almost total control  over the people.  The ruler of the party was called “Big Brother” and they utilized the “thought police” to invade the privacy of all citizens.

In a social climate where getting a job is a major coup, keeping it could be just as challenging if you aren’t monitoring access to your information.  In our tech-driven, social networking site saturated society, nowhere is this concept ringing more true than in the area of employment law.  Workplace privacy protection has become a major area of interest for both employees and employers.

Employers are utilizing Facebook and other social networking sites more and more in all stages of the employment process ,from application and hiring, to firing and even in the defense of lawsuits.   Human Resources departments are more frequently searching an individual’s social networking pages for inappropriate pictures and interactions before hiring.  In the same vein, companies do the same as a reason for firing, an even easier task as most employees are at-will to begin with.  Companies are seeing these sites and individual pages as a reflection, real or imagined, on the company as a whole.  These lines of privacy are being further blurred by current litigation that is creating precedent in this area of law.

Recent case law has gone both ways.  Some Federal cases have held that an employee’s personal information is not protected in a lawsuit if he or she utilizes the internet to search sites, check personal e-mail and go on social networking sites during office hours.  What most employees fail to notice is that most companies have explicit policies restricting the use of electronic company resources for personal use, and state that employers may have access to their information, history and passwords.  The real underlying question remains: Do employees have a reasonable subjective and objective expectation of privacy?

Whichever way you answer this question, the fact remains that telephone, computer, and electronic mail and voicemail monitoring have become much more common in the workplace.  What is even more challenging is the limitation this puts on social networking sites and the perpetually hazy lines being overstepped by co-workers and bosses.

The lesson to be learned here is relatively simple but crucial.  Make sure that you have privacy settings in place on your personal networking pages so that not just anyone can see them, make sure you are filtering what you put on your page and what you let others post, and make sure you know who has access to your information on these sites.  This is a particularly important issue for the younger generation of people who have not yet seen the value in these sites for business purposes.  Similarly, be aware of what you are doing online on company time, as this information and your right to privacy may soon no longer be protected.  So consistently clear your cookies and search history because big brother is watching, and thanks to the law, may be able to watch you in ways you never imagined.

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