Computer Hacking is Big Business
The notion of a hacker as some teenage computer geek motivated by the challenge to overcome institutional security systems (remember Matthew Broderick in War Games) is long gone.
Today, common criminals, organized crime syndicates, and even nation-states use sophisticated equipment and systems to attack seemingly impenetrable barriers. Driven primarily by profit, they strike without warning and are often difficult to trace.
As a result, Cyber-security has become a huge business.
In light of the recent security breaches at Neiman Marcus, Target and the Home Depot, according to IDC Retail Insights, U.S. retailers will spend $720.3 million on cyber security in 2014.
Consumers’ pocketbooks are no less affected by cyber crime.
Anti-virus and anti-spyware software, firewalls, and password management tools are being installed on laptops, tablets and mobile devices everywhere to prevent identity theft, or simply to secure private information. Unfortunately for Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande, and Kate Upton, this was not enough to prevent the recent leak of nude photos that were obtained by an Apple iCloud hacker.
So why would you voluntarily turn over your social media passwords to anyone?!
Well, that’s exactly what some employers are requiring as a condition of employment.
Give you my password?! What?!
A 2012 report by Gartner, Inc. estimates that by 2015, 60% of corporations will have formal programs directed at monitoring employee activity in social media. Why do these companies want access to your social media?
It seems they are worried about criticism of the company or its customers in social media. (Case in point – the recent online shaming of terrible tipper Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.) Harassment of co-workers or subordinates in social media is another concern. The leak, inadvertent or intentional, of confidential company or client information is yet another reason employers want access to your social media. Finally, some companies claim that access is necessary for compliance with federal regulations, or to avoid exposure to legal liabilities.
While companies have a legitimate interest in avoiding liability, protecting their brand and confidential information, there are certainly less intrusive means to ensuring these goals than requiring employees open up their password wallet.
In response to these practices, a number of states have enacted laws prohibiting employers from requiring employees to provide access to their social media accounts (Maryland, Illinois, California, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Michigan, Nevada, and New Jersey) and many others, including New York, have similar statutes in the legislative pipeline.
Additionally, employers who access employee’s social media accounts without permission may be violating the federal Stored Communications Act (“SCA”).
How does an employer gain such unauthorized access? Through fake or straw man accounts (fake friends); by pressuring connected coworkers to share their connections; or, by the installation, on the employee’s computer, of software that captures the employee’s login information.
While most social media posts are unrelated to work and relatively harmless, companies are increasingly watching their employees internet activity.
Have you had any experience with your job and social media that you think requires a legal consultation? Ralph A. Somma, a Long Island, NY employment lawyer, handles workplace law cases.
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