Bozeman backs off of the snooping (followup)

Following up on a previous story:

Not surprisingly, the city of Bozeman, Montana, decided to back off on requiring social networking site passwords for hiring.

CNet reports that the city sent out a press release on Friday with an update to the policy, where they also mention EFF attorney Kevin Bankston had some choice words for the city government:

I think it’s indefensibly invasive and likely illegal as a violation of the First Amendment rights of job applicants… Essentially, they’re conditioning your application for employment on your waiving your First Amendment rights… and risking the security of your information by requiring you to share your password with them… Where does it stop? How about a photocopy of your diary?

The Register updated their original story with information that Facebook itself has taken issue with its users passwords being collected. As well they should. I’m surprised more sites have not followed.

I personally believe even a requirement to add an official account as a friend on Facebook or similar sites goes over the line. (I saw this mentioned somewhere when reading up on the news today but can’t find it now.) Any background check on someone should only be based on public information tied to that person under an identity that can be confirmed as theirs. Even some blogs should be off-limits if they are written under pseudonyms.

Bozeman’s city government engaging in flagrant snooping

Ars Technica reports on the city of Bozeman, Montana, USA and its very nosy–and possibly illegal–city government job application requirements.

The city of Bozeman does not stop at asking applicants to divulge “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,, MySpace, etc.” That would be nosy enough.

No, they also want the passwords. That, in my opinion, steps way over the line.

I found a listing of state computer crimes laws at For Montana, the relevant sections are: “Mont. Code Ann. ยงยง 45-1-205(4), 45-2-101, 45-6-310, 45-6-311.” In order:

  • 45-1-205(4) is the statute of limitations, which isn’t really relevant here;
  • 45-2-101 is a listing of general definitions, none of which appear to be anything unexpected;
  • 45-6-310 and 45-6-311 are the “meat” of the computer crimes laws in Montana, and what I will be focusing on.

Depending on how exactly one reads 45-6-310 and 45-6-311, the Montana Code sections which detail “computer use” and “unlawful use of a computer,” this may even violate Montana state law:

45-6-310. Definition — computer use. As used in 45-6-311, the term “obtain the use of” means to instruct, communicate with, store data in, retrieve data from, cause input to, cause output from, or otherwise make use of any resources of a computer, computer system, or computer network or to cause another to instruct, communicate with, store data in, retrieve data from, cause input to, cause output from, or otherwise make use of any resources of a computer, computer system, or computer network.
45-6-311. Unlawful use of a computer. (1) A person commits the offense of unlawful use of a computer if the person knowingly or purposely:
(a) obtains the use of any computer, computer system, or computer network without consent of the owner;
(b) alters or destroys or causes another to alter or destroy a computer program or computer software without consent of the owner; or
© obtains the use of or alters or destroys a computer, computer system, computer network, or any part thereof as part of a deception for the purpose of obtaining money, property, or computer services from the owner of the computer, computer system, computer network, or part thereof or from any other person.

The way I read the law, the owner, here, would be Facebook, Google, etc. who would have to consent to access of their system, by the city of Bozeman’s HR department, under the identity of the prospective employee. Maybe my interpetation of the law is completely different from how a judge would see it; maybe I have some law students out there laughing their heads off. I don’t know, but it certainly looks at least legally dubious to me, if not outright unlawful.

Even if perfectly legal under Montana law (and that is a huge “if”), the legal liability if just one of those applications gets mishandled (read “not shredded into really tiny pieces after use”) is enormous.

Conclusion: I don’t know what is in the water up there in Bozeman, Montana, but it can’t be good.