George Orwell – the 2012 updated edition

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The recession has not gone away totally.  While, things are getting better, we are still a long way from a total recovery, the distance varies according to what you are measuring.  We measure many things, gross nation products, retail sales, big ticket items, sales by industry, the Dow Jones averages, housing starts, unemployment and just about any part of our economic life that can be quantified.  Whether or not recovery is stagnant or progressing strongly depends on the specific measure you use and the region of the country to which you apply that measure.  In Nevada the recovery is happening slower than any other state in the union, in part because we lead the nation in the growth era.  However, from what I read and hear there is still enough lingering recession in most states to keep people nervous and uncertain about their future.

Everyone knows someone, at least here in Reno, who is either unemployed or underemployed; every business is generating less revenue than it did five years ago and employs fewer people than it did in the those last days before the bubble burst.  I started thinking about this today over the headline I saw online: “Job Seekers Getting Asked for Facebook Password.”  Now, because I have held gaming licenses in several jurisdictions in the country I am accustomed to invasive questions.  The amount of personal (which often includes personal data about family members) and financial information some states require would stun the average person.  But, when an applicant questions the process they are told that a gaming license is “a privilege and not a right.”  Fill in the forms or go someplace else, it is that simple.  And some people do walk away, but not as often as you might suspect, the rewards are reasonably high and alternative options are limited.

However, to put into an average job that same invasive behavior is really threatening.  Of course, any private business has the right to hire whoever it wishes; it cannot discriminate against some categories of people, but it can choose people according to is own criteria of qualifications.  In theory that means it can ask for some information as a qualifier and a Facebook password might be a bit of required information.  But, unlike your address, contact information, work history and education, Facebook gives the prospective employer the ability to look into your personal life; it can look before you get the job, after you have the job and even after you leave the company.  Now, you do not have to provide your password, you can get up and walk out of the interview without ever a backward glance.  In an Orwellian world the government will have your password and there will be no walking out of the room, but we are not there yet.

We are, however, still in a recession with unemployment nationally over 8 percent, in Nevada it is over 12 percent; so in a world where jobs are difficult to very difficult and for some nearly impossible to find, how easy is it to walk away?  That to me is frightening.  In other contexts, I have often hear the defense of government snooping stated as: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”   I have nothing to hide, but I don’t want anyone outside of my family knowing the names of everyone in my family, what they like to do with their time and who their friends are; and of course it comes with a picture.  Imagine all of the people in the prospective company who would have access to the password and therefore into your private life.  All it takes is one unscrupulous person (that is true when government has the information too), one person will the desire to use that information for his purposes – that is horrifying.

Facebook as become ubiquitous and is fast becoming one of two or three essential and basic ways we communicate with each.  Can we walk away from Facebook to keep the job?   Increasingly that is becoming less and less likely for the majority of people.   Does the government or an employer ever have the right to sit in our personal conversations?   If I take the job I advise you to unfriend me.


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