Editorial: Facebook access case thrusts Cass in spotlightPublished 10:56pm Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Cass County is unaccustomed to being on the viral end of a developing news story of interest, so far, to ABC News and CNN.
Kimberly Hester, a teacher’s aide at former Frank Squires Elementary in Cassopolis, last April posted with permission a photo a co-worker sent her on Facebook, on their own time and not at or during work.
The social media phenomenon has caught a lot of people with their pants down and remains a nebulous gray area, though lawmakers are moving to fill that void.
The photo showing pants, legs and shoe tips could only be viewed by Facebook friends, but one of hers was a parent who found it offensive and unprofessional.
Soon, Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Supt. Robert Colby summoned Hester to his office and requested access to her page. She refused.
A letter from LCISD followed: “…in the absence of you voluntarily granting (administration) access to you(r) Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.”
Legal experts from various news organizations consulted indicate the LCISD didn’t break any laws by asking for Hester’s Facebook information, since there weren’t any state or federal laws protecting social media privacy in the workplace.
That is changing. A Van Buren County legislator, state Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, introduced legislation prohibiting employers from asking applicants and employees for passwords and other private account information for social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter.
House Bill 5523 would also keep employers from firing someone or failing to hire someone who does not surrender account details.
“We must insure that our laws protecting private information advance as well,” Nesbitt said. “Social networking sites allow individuals to distinguish between public and private information. Employers and educational institutions should respect that distinction. People have the right to share certain parts of their lives with the public, while sharing other parts with only friends and family. Why should privacy barriers be eliminated due to technological advancements? They shouldn’t.”
Public opinion seems squarely behind Hester. In our online poll, 93 percent of 58 respondents said no, five percent said it depends on the circumstances and 2 percent said yes. Eventually, those taxpayers may question the wisdom of pouring limited educational resources into a protracted legal battle.
This editorial represents the opinions of the editorial board.