Lawmakers, ACLU Expressing Outrage Over Facebook Password Job Interview Requests
March 24, 2012

Outrage Over Facebook Password Job Interview Requests

The controversy surrounding employers or universities asking for Facebook passwords or similar content has drawn the attention of the social network, civil rights groups, members of the US Senate, and even union officials overseas, according to press releases and various media reports published this week.

The practice was brought to light thanks to an article by Manuel Valdes and Shannon Mcfarland of the Associated Press (AP), which told the story of a New York statistician who was asked for his Facebook login information after a job interviewer was unable to find his private profile on the social network.

"Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn´t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information," Valdes and Mcfarland wrote. "But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no." technology blogger Helen A.S. Popkin refers to the practice of requesting "inappropriate access to Facebook accounts" as a "violation of privacy" (not to mention "the First Amendment") and calls it "a potential liability problem for the inquiring institutions."

Plus, as of Friday morning, it is also a violation of Facebook's terms of service, according to rules changes disclosed in a statement posted to the social network's website by Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan.

"In recent months, we´ve seen a distressing increase in reports of employers or others seeking to gain inappropriate access to people´s Facebook profiles or private information. This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user´s friends.  It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability," Egan wrote.

"The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords.  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," the privacy chief added.

"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. That´s why we´ve made it a violation of Facebook´s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password."

Egan added that they believed that not only is it wrong for businesses to ask for the passwords of prospective employees, but that by doing so, they could open themselves up to other issues, including claims of discrimination if an individual is not hired or potential liability for information learned by accessing a social networking page (admission of a crime, for example).

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and former state attorney general from Connecticut, told Politico's Tony Romm that he is in the process of writing a bill that would make it illegal for employers to seek access to a job candidate's personal social networking account, calling it an "unreasonable invasion of privacy."

Blumenthal added that he was "very deeply troubled" by the practice and promised that his legislation would be completed "in the very near future."

ACLU attorney Catherine Crump also weighed in on the controversy, saying in a statement posted to the civil rights organization's website that it was "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," she added.

For now, the trend seems to be only a problem in the US, but experts seem to think that could change.

“Once something like this starts happening in the US, it is likely to come over here -- especially in American businesses which have outposts in UK," Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), told Telegraph Digital Media Editor Emma Barnett on Friday. "If interviewers in the US are adopting this practice of asking prospective staff for access to their Facebook accounts, they will start doing it over here."

"I think it´s very dangerous and unnecessary to start asking people for access into their personal lives," she added. "Once you start asking people to reveal everything about themselves, which is irrelevant to their ability to be able to do a job, you are getting into a tricky area. It´s the equivalent of getting people to spy on prospective staff down at the pub before hiring them“¦ It´s also quite a lazy way by bosses to get a full picture of somebody and shows that their interviewing process is unsatisfactory."