Social media ban on bosses in push to protect privacy

Bosses would be banned from demanding access to job seekers' Facebook pages and other social media accounts under potential changes to national privacy laws.

The use of social media accounts to assess candidates for work, education and other opportunities was ''an area of growing concern'', the Australian Law Reform Commission said a paper released on Tuesday.

The commission is considering whether new laws are needed to allow people to sue for invasions of privacy, following a request by the former Gillard government in June.

It said the use of remotely-piloted aircraft, or drones, GPS tracking and the aggregation of data such as web browsing history also pointed to the potential need for a right to sue for invasion of privacy or to amend existing laws which offered protection in some areas.

It is illegal to ask job seekers for social media passwords in 13 US states, including California and New Jersey, and other states are following suit.

North Carolina plans to go a step further and ban colleges from demanding access to prospective students' accounts.

''It may be appropriate to include such conduct as an example of a serious invasion of privacy for the purpose of a statutory cause of action or to amend laws dealing with workplace surveillance to prohibit such conduct,'' the commission said. But noted it was ''unclear'' if asking for social media usernames and passwords was widespread in Australia.

Workplace relations lawyer Jack de Flamingh, a partner at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, said: ''It is something I've heard about in the US in particular, and there [the laws] seem to be a response to a perceived need. In Australia at present my experience is there is no need.''

Mr de Flamingh said there were reasons why employers would not want to ask for such information. This included the risk of being sued for discrimination if job seekers were rejected for unlawful reasons.

There could also be reputational damage ''given that this is not an accepted practice in Australia'', he said.

Media law expert David Rolph, an associate professor at the University of Sydney Law School, said a ''patchwork'' of laws such as trespass to land and defamation were used in Australia to protect privacy indirectly but the remedies were not always effective.

The High Court left open the possibility of a new action for invasion of privacy in 2001, but since then there have ''only been two cases that have gone to final judgment on invasion of privacy'', he said.

He noted the law in the UK had been driven by celebrities such as former supermodel Naomi Campbell, who sued British tabloid the Daily Mirror after it published photos of her leaving Narcotics Anonymous in 2001.

Dr Rolph said in Australia stars were ''less likely to want to alienate people in a smaller media market''.

''It's actually a good thing that celebrities aren't driving it because a privacy law that's driven by celebrity litigants is going to be different in shape to a privacy law driven by private individuals,'' he said.