The Internet is abuzz over reports of companies demanding total Facebook access as part mandatory background checks for employment. Several claims have surfaced that some employers go beyond just snooping through a person's public profile, requesting their password as well. New information at the end of the article.
Understandably, there are many that have called the practice an invasion of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now engaging in the debate, decrying the practice in their blog.
An excerpt, written by ACLU attorney Catherine Crump states:
"It's an invasion of privacy for private employers to insist on looking at people's private Facebook pages as a condition of employment or consideration in an application process. People are entitled to their private lives. You'd be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It's equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person's private social media account."
Beyond feeling like an invasion of privacy, there is also the question of whether it is legal. In difficult economic times, many applicants may feel like they have no choice but to comply with a potential employer's request for their username and password to get a job.
It's not just about embarrassing photos at your your friends birthday. The fact is that the kind of information an employer might find on your social media network could delve into areas that are off limits according to anti-discrimination law and cannot be asked in interviews. These include things like sexuality, religion, medical conditions and more.
Federal law pretty much states the obvious — that employers are allowed to peruse and use whatever information is not made private and that they have not obtained falsely (like creating an alias to friend you). Additionally, entering Facebook under false pretenses is against Facebook's terms of service, and violating a social network's terms of service is a Federal Crime.
Despite the Federal law, it seems that real enforcement and clear legislation is likely to happen on the State level. In fact, in a test case in Maryland, a state corrections officer questioned the mandatory practice of turning over password policy and involved the ACLU. The case was responsible for raising the practice to national attention and as a result his department made the policy "voluntary."
The states of Maryland and Illinois have engaged in the debate and have now introduced social media privacy bills in their state senates to make the practice of asking for passwords illegal.
Until more comprehensive legislation is enacted, if you are asked to provide your password in an interview — or on any application for that matter — consider that you may be providing a more complete picture of yourself than you may realize no matter how careful you have been.
Update from The Editor: Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, is telling employers that intruding on users' privacy in this way is not okay (via Consumer Reports):
If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends.... As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn't have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don't know and didn't intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job.