Judges Say Google Background Checks Are Okay

from the yeah-I-did-it-but... dept

The idea of a Google search as a person’s permanent record continues to gather a lot of interest — whether it’s people fretting that they can’t be found or government agents using it as a tool. A consistently reoccurring theme is how employers use Google as a de facto reference or background check on potential employees, though many of these worries seem a bit overblown. However, one federal employee who got fired for misusing government property alleged that a Google search by an official as part of the investigation into his thefts violated his “right to fundamental fairness”. A three-judge panel disagreed, rejecting the claim that the search, which turned up information about two previous times the guy had been removed from a job, affected the decision to fire him. The case seems to hinge on the use of the search, and whether it undermines due process in determining whether or not to fire the guy. The judges said that the official’s Google search didn’t constitute ex-parte communication, since it wasn’t a communication between parties. That seems to be the crucial part of the ruling here, because it essentially means it’s acceptable for employers (or at least the federal government, as an employer) to check out workers’ backgrounds online. The judges seem to be saying (quite reasonably) that the internet shouldn’t get singled out for special treatment, and that it should be considered as any other research source. Should any communication on the internet constitute prejudicial ex-parte communication, then it should be dealt with as such. The bottom line: just because your boss found out about your past online, it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t fire you.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Judges Say Google Background Checks Are Okay”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Sanguine Dream says:


The bottom line: just because your boss found out about your past online, it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t fire you…

as long as confirm they are looking at the right person. I can understand people being fearful of employers googling (or whatever search engine) for their history. What I’m afraid of is the day that an employer uses info from a net search to fire someone and then the info turns out to be wrong. But let me guess I’m sure there is already some clause that protects said employer from a wrongful termination suit.

Makarot says:

Re: ...

I’ve heard so much about this recently.

I did a search on myself and, try as I might, I couldn’t find any information that was actually about me.

I suppose my name is pretty common,
but I also make it a point to keep my name off of myspace, livejournal, facebook, all the other crap that people seem to be getting in trouble for these days.

I mean, isn’t that what net-handles are for?

Verum (user link) says:

Nobody should be fired because of their past. If someone is doing a great job now, I don’t care if they murdered someone in the past, that’s what the idea of reform is all about.

“Well, you’ve been doing a great job here John, but we’re going to have to let you go.”
“What? Why? I have a family to feed!”
“We googled your name, and found out you listened to the Dead Kennedys, an anti-corporate punk band, when you were 17.”
“How I wish I could turn back time…”

fuck dorpus says:


Do what I do. My “name” online is not my “legal” name. My legal name, in fact, is one of the most common names on the planet (first AND last, go me!) so by having a unique online name, I know how to find MYSELF any time I want, but people like employers and stalkers have no idea how to even begin given how commonplace my legal name is.

JustMatt says:


That isn’t what happened here and that isn’t the issue at hand.

As an employer I need to know if an employee has a history of doing ‘bad things’ (misusing govt. property, using illegal drugs, spouse abuse, etc.) because that could well have an impact on his ability to do the job (being responsible for govt. contracts, flying a commercial jetliner, working in an elder care facility, etc.).

K (user link) says:

Just like...

Reminds me of the time the boss of my former company, who periodically Googled the company name to see if anyone was talking about it, stumbled upon the LiveJournal of a guy who mentioned his interview, but who used an RPG name for his journal name. While I explained that it’s very common for people to use handles online, the HR person insisted “I wouldn’t hire someone like that”. I didn’t, of course, tell them of my own online handles.

Charles Griswold (user link) says:

Re: Just like...

While I explained that it’s very common for people to use handles online, the HR person insisted “I wouldn’t hire someone like that”. I didn’t, of course, tell them of my own online handles.

Exactly. My real name is not “Charles Griswold”. It’s “Grolnar, Lord of the Blackest Dark and Destroyer of Worlds”.

Oops, my secret is out. So much for that cushy job at the DHS.

ronald says:

not all backgrounds are the same

not everyone thats read in backgrounds are realy that person. example my name when typed up in intelius.com commenly known as peoplefor will show you all your familys names when you type your own. but when you continue there are other names there that are not your family and other areas whe you live so your paying for information that belongs to both you and another entire family.

Lorraine says:

I think its a crock

I personally think that employers should be able to perform a background check on a potential employee. However, I do not feel that anyone out there in cyberspace should be able to purchase the same information. What has happened to our rights to privacy. What if you don’t want an EX to find you? Anyone can find anybody now a days. I think its dangerous and an invasion of privacy. Not everyone needs to know everyone else’s business. I seriously wonder why people aren’t getting more upset about this. Now are cell phone numbers are being published on Intelius.com. What next?

Daryl says:

It’s going to get to the point where people are fired or not hired merely for posting political viewpoints that are considered out of the mainstream, and that is such hypocrisy considering how far this country has gone to protect the rights of minorities. Libertarians, communists, fascists, etc, will be fired just for rejecting the ruling order. Republicans will fire Democrats and vice versa.

Then its going to get to the point where people don’t even care if someone actually said something, and people will start impersonating each other (already happened to me) as a weapon against the person.,

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...