Here at Popehat we talk a lot about how the government — through design or through bureaucratic inertia — sticks its nose into your business. It's easy to forget that the government can be even more of a bizarre, ineffectual nuisance when you work for it.
Case in point: the City of Bozeman, Montana. Say you want a job with Bozeman. You'd expect to fill out an application. You'd expect to disclose your education, and almost certainly your criminal history.
The requirement is included on a waiver statement applicants must sign, giving the City permission to conduct an investigation into the person's "background, references, character, past employment, education, credit history, criminal or police records."
"Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.," the City form states. There are then three lines where applicants can list the Web sites, their user names and log-in information and their passwords.
Yes. In other words, Bozeman wants you not only to list every web site on which you have a username, but wants you to turn over your password. Presumably Bozeman does not plan to get into the sock-puppet business, so I can only assume that they want to have an easy way to search for every comment you have ever made under your various usernames.
Bozeman officials think this requirement is narrowly drawn. Said City Attorney Greg Sullivan:
We're not putting out this broad brush stroke of trying to find out all kinds of information about the person that we're not able to use or shouldn't use in the hiring process.
Well, actually, Greg, you are. You're demanding a broad swath of information that is completely unrelated to the applicants' qualifications, and that demands disclosure of speech activity that the state cannot use to deny employment. A state "cannot condition public employment on a basis that infringes the employee’s constitutionally protected interest in freedom of expression.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138, 142 (1983). Evaluation of retaliation against public employee speech involves a balancing test taking into a account (1) whether the employee was speaking as a citizen on a matter of public interest [as opposed to speaking as a government representative], and (2) whether the government had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently based on the speech. Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township School Dist. 205, Will Cty., 391 U. S. 563 (1968). Bozeman might be able to fire — or refuse to hire — employees for some internet conduct that could serve to disrupt city business, but cannot justify demanding not just identification of, but control over all forums on which an employee comments, whatever the content. Moreover, the City has no possible, let alone adequate, justification for limiting what employees say under anonymous usernames like WootILoveMontana on YouTube. This leaves aside the entire privacy analysis, which is another problem.
How could Bozeman get away with such a ludicrous and patently illegal policy? The same way the government always gets away with sticking its nose in people's business: cowardice and indifference.
No one has ever removed his or her name from consideration for a job due to the request, Sullivan added.
The government will always get away with bad behavior if nobody stands up.
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