Ah, Germany -- that orderly Central European Utopia which carefully protects rights Americans didn't even know existed. For example, a right to privacy in public.
That seems to be the basic idea behind a new German law which forbids employers from checking out the online social profiles of prospective job candidates. According to Der Spiegel, Germany's authoritative newsweekly, the German legislature (Bundestag) is set to "radically restrict the information bosses can legally collect" about job applicants from the Internet, including popular social networks like Facebook.
Exemptions include networks with a professional, career-oriented focus like LinkedIn, as well as any information that's "generally available on the Internet" -- meaning, something that can be found easily with search engines like Google or on a personal Web site.
Like so many idealistic policies promulgated by forward-thinking Europeans, this law seems, well, ludicrously unenforceable. I can't really imagine how applicants or law enforcement officials might determine whether employers have looked at restricted information. Especially because they can create fake profiles or use proxies to snoop around on social networks. And what about cases where the employer and applicant happen to be friends (connected through a social network) before they develop a professional relationship?
Setting aside the issues of practicality, this rule will probably strike Americans as strange for a couple reasons. Although most social networks elect to offer a range of "privacy" options, under U.S. law anyone who chooses to share personal information online assumes responsibility for any consequences this entails. Similarly, U.S. labor laws place far fewer restrictions on employers than in Europe, where legislatures have set up abundant (some say excessive) protections for workers. And capitalist Americans just generally tend to be less forgiving of slip-ups in the professional realm: If you are dumb enough to post incriminating pictures online, the thinking goes, you probably deserve to get canned, or never hired in the first place.
But Germans have their reasons to be worried about nosy authority figures snooping in their business (which apparently extends to looking at their Facebook profiles) -- a deep-seated suspicion resulting from the country's historical experience, which is also reflected in the controversy over Google's Street View taking pictures of people's houses.