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Bozeman Montana Backs Down From Demanding Facebook IDs

Most employers now do some internet research to learn more about current and potential staff, ostensibly to help determine that the well turned out person who interviewed well and looks the part isn’t merely putting on a professional mask.  Some would see that as cyberstalking.  After all, an employer should surely employ staff on the basis of what they do professionally, not judge them on which football team they support (I don’t), which celebrity actor or actress they fancy (Bonnie Langford), who their friends are on Facebook (I don’t do Facebook) and who they follow on Twitter.

That’s a valid topic for discussion.  Especially in the city of Bozeman, Montana which was recently discovered to have gone further than that and asked all potential employees:

“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.”

But Bozeman isn’t simply interested in finding out where to look for potentially embarrassing personal details; the city wants full disclosure, since the form demands username and password information for each. City employees will apparently be able to dig through any information applicants have put online, regardless of whether it’s accessible to the public.

Here in the UK the right to a private life is guaranteed by the European Commission on Human Rights.  So a potential employer does not have the right to ask for any of my passwords.  And they would be politely and respectfully informed of that should any such request be made (I should point out that I wouldn’t want to work for an employer obsessed with such a personal intrusion anyway).

Naturally such a disclosure has generated some unwanted coverage and bad publicity for Bozeman.

What did the people behind this idea expect? I feel more than just a slight lack of Clue from the officials who thought up this idea and those who approved it.

News broke yesterday that Bozeman officials have now backed down from this requirement.

It’s clear now, however, that the city has gotten a major whiff of its own bad PR and has decided to back off. In its meeting yesterday, city officials clarified that no candidate was ever disqualified for not disclosing the login info, and that the only staff to review password-protect information was the HR department. Still, the city is red-faced over the incident. “We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the City of Bozeman,” City Manager Chris A. Kukulski said in a statement.

“This was an honest mistake,” he continued. “Human Resources, our Police and Fire Departments were doing something they believed was consistent with our core values. I take full responsibility for this decision and we will work hard to regain the trust and confidence of the City Commission and our community.”

That such a requirement was even contemplated is bad enough.  Whoever suggested this requirement and whoever approved it clearly lacks any kind of understanding of the right to personal privacy.  The “core values” to which Mr Kukulski refers are mentioned on his page on the Bozeman website:

Integrity, leadership, service, and teamwork are the core values of our organization and provide a framework for our employees, community volunteers and citizens. Our professional staff is made up of educated, licensed, and experienced accountants, attorneys, engineers, policemen, firefighters, parks and recreation professionals, and planners working to maintain Bozeman’s vision as the “Most Livable Place.”

In addition, to the vision and core values, the City’s mission, “To enhance the quality of life through excellence in public service”, gives guidance to the staff as they fulfill their commitment of providing sound professional advice to our elected officials and assist them in their daily approach to servicing our vibrant community.

Good solid stuff there.  But excellence in leadership requires staff to have confidence that the leadership is acting with integrity, which is basically “doing the right thing”.  Without that confidence you cannot have excellence in service or true team working.  Monitoring everything an employee does out of the office is not doing the right thing and irreversibly shatters the bond of trust that should exist between employer and employee.

Excellence in service is something I believe in.  Someone can be an excellent leader even if they avidly support a football team I dislike, or listen to music I can’t stand.  It’s what they do and how they do it in the professional environment that matters.

“Providing sound professional advice” doesn’t seem to have happened here until the decision was taken to back down from this request.  I ask again what did they expect?  Someone got this one very very wrong.  That others didn’t highlight this doesn’t reflect very well on the judgement of the people concerned.  Hard questions need to be asked of those people.

I’ve written elsewhere about apologising, what it should mean and how sometimes an apology is actually meaningless.  I will leave it to the citizens of Bozeman, Montana to judge whether Mr Kukulski’s apology is a genuine one by those standards.

Published inbad managementbusinesslack of Clueprivacy