Bozeman officials learn their lesson quickly thanks to massive immediate backlash - but were they so far off?

Last week, Montana's News Station reported on a tip from an anonymous source about a disturbing addition to the City of Bozeman's background check procedures for City employee candidates. According to the report, part of the City's background check waiver included a request for applicants to "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.," with three more lines for applicants to provide their login information to each. The report quickly became a hot topic on Twitter and the City of Bozeman offices received e-mails from all over the world attacking the policy, which many claimed was an invasion of privacy. The City issued a release that Friday, the 19th (included in the report linked above), vowing to cease the collection of personal login information to websites, social networks and e-mail servers immediately and to "suspend its practice of reviewing candidate's password protected Internet information until the City conducts a more comprehensive evaluation of the practice." For me, the funny thing about this story is that it didn't even register as an invasion of privacy to me - I was more concerned about the idea of security in general. It's ridiculous and completely unwarranted to ask job applicants to fork over their personal login information to various websites as part of a "background check", but the basic thought behind it, that potential employers should be able to review your online presence before hiring, isn't entirely unsound. If a key function of your job is to represent your company, shouldn't your employer at least be aware of your presence and communication across various networks when it concerns your company? It's a tricky and touchy subject to be sure, and people are going to be testing the boundaries for a while before employers and employees can figure out a compromise that's acceptable to everyone (if such an agreement is even possible). But before you write it off entirely, just remember examples of bad behavior on social media, such as that of the Dominoes employees and even the prison officer befriending the very inmates he supervised. Would a prison or police department really be in the wrong for asking permission to look into your connections with known drug dealers, even if only on Facebook?

- Devin