Should Hiring Managers Be Allowed to Ask Applicants for Their Facebook Passwords?

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It Might Not Be Illegal, But Employers Should be Wary

 

More than two weeks after the Associated Press reported on the trend of employers demanding access to applicants’ Facebook accounts, politicians, job hunters and the social network itself continue to grapple with the story’s ramifications.

The uproar began when AP reporters Manuel Valdes and Shannon McFarland wrote a story recounting several incidents of jobseekers being asked to provide their Facebook passwords to potential employers or to log onto their accounts, allowing the hiring company to peruse private posts, messages and photos.

Among the first to respond to the revelations was Facebook itself, which pointed out that sharing the password is, in fact, a violation of the network’s terms and conditions.

“As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, wrote in a statement. “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.”

Civil rights advocates have also jumped into the fray. The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement calling such password requests “egregious privacy violation, comparable to poking around in your house or reading your personal email.”

In Washington, D.C., both Senators and Congressmen have urged action on the issue.

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week [Mar. 25] sent letters to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice asking the agencies to launch investigations into the legality of what they called “the disturbing trend.”

The practice, the senators said, represents a “grave intrusion into personal privacy that could set a dangerous precedent for personal privacy and online privacy.”

The senators also raised the concern that employers examining Facebook accounts could learn information about an applicant’s age, race or religion. Once they know this information, employers could be vulnerable to charges of discrimination if they end up not hiring the candidate in question.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) went a step further, introducing a measure that would have banned employers from requiring current or prospective employees to hand over passwords as a condition of employment. The provision was defeated by a largely party-line vote of 236-185, but at least two more such proposals are already in the works: both Blumenthal and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) have announced their intention to author such legislation.

Despite the official outcry about the issue, average workers seem to be more split on the issue. While many have called requests for Facebook passwords unethical and potentially illegal, others have a different take. Some claim that such requests should not concern people with nothing to hide; others contend that employers have a right to assess whether a candidate would represent an employer in a professional manner.

What’s your take? Are Facebook password requests an unconscionable violation of privacy or simply part of the technological evolution of business?

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