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ACLU Guidance on Demands For Passwords To Protected Accounts

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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April 25, 2012

The Associated Press wrote a story a couple of weeks ago about job applicants being compelled to turn over the passwords to their social-networking accounts. This is an issue that the ACLU has worked on in a number of states, and it has stirred a lot of interest. Now, we’ve posted a guide to the issue on our web site.

In the guide, we do the following:

• Outline our policy views on such demands, and why they constitute a “grievous invasion of privacy.”

• Offer broad guidance for what job applicants, employees, and students (who are among the most frequent targets for such demands) can and cannot do about it when presented with such demands.

• Outline what we think legislation passed by Congress and state legislatures needs to do.

Here is what we say about legislation:

Current laws are inadequate to protect individuals from these flagrant invasions of privacy. We need new state and federal legislation that expressly prohibits these violations. Comprehensive legislation should:

• Make it illegal for any government or private employer or any public or private school to require, request, suggest, or cause any student, employee or prospective employee to provide passwords to Facebook or any other password-protected accounts.

• Make it illegal for employers to require employees to permit access to private material through indirect routes such as requiring employees to add them to their private social networks (e.g., by “friending” them) as a condition of employment . The legislation should likewise make it illegal for schools to do the same as a condition for receiving educational benefits or privileges such as participating on a sports team.

• Make it illegal for employers to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize any employee who refuses to provide access to private materials, or to threaten to do so. It should also be illegal for prospective employees to refuse to hire anyone for that reason.

The full guide is online here.

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