By Joseph S. Burns
The Virginia State Police (the “VSP”), according to the Virginia ACLU, could be running foul of federal law and the U.S. Constitution by requiring trooper applicants to provide access to their social media accounts during the hiring process. Indeed, the ACLU of Virginia’s Legal Director asked that state police discontinue the practice, described as "shoulder surfing." "Absent a concrete reason to believe that a potential employee is engaged in wrongdoing of which his Facebook account is likely to contain evidence, these communications are simply none of the VSP's business," the Legal Director Stated. "Looking at this information is akin to opening an applicant's mail or listening in on his telephone calls. Such eavesdropping intrudes on the privacy of not only the job applicant, but his online friends and correspondents."
A spokesperson for the VSP confirmed that it had been contacted by the Virginia ACLU, noting that “we will continue our existing hiring practices,” and that “… our investigative background process is necessary and appropriate for the job our applicants are expected to do and the authority granted to such individuals upon being hired on to the Virginia State Police."
In addition to possibly violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, along with the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech, the ACLU cautioned that the VSP might be violating the Stored Communications Act, a federal statute that prohibits one from intentionally accessing stored electronic communications. This dispute raises important questions about the breadth of pre-employment background checks, and just how far a local government may go in screening new hires.
There is far more to come on this issue. Check back soon as we follow and provide further developments and updates.