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Your Facebook Password Should Be None of Your Boss’ Business

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March 20, 2012

Today, the Associated Press reports that some employers are asking applicants for their Facebook usernames and passwords. According to the article:

Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.

Companies that don’t ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.

Responding to the news, ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said:

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.

As the AP reports, in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to a job at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave of absence following a death in the family. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked to provide his Facebook username and password, which the agency said they needed to check for gang affiliations. Although he was shocked by the request, Collins felt he had no choice but to comply because “I needed my job to feed my family.”

After the ACLU of Maryland complained about the practice, the agency reconsidered its policy, and instead began asking applicants to “voluntarily” to provide access to their social media accounts during interviews (which still seems pretty invasive to us!) Thankfully, the ACLU of Maryland is fighting for a social media privacy bill in the state. You can read Collins’ testimony in support of that bill here.

After we read the article this morning, we went on Facebook (where else!) to ask our Demand Your dotRights followers to ask their opinions, and from the comments left on our wall, it seems like most of you agree, as well. Some of our favorite comments included:

“I consider it a violation of personal privacy. Will the next step be to request a key to my house?”

“Vile and outrageous, this should no more be legal than requiring you allow an employer into your home to go through your mail, closets and photos.”

Bottom line: we believe you shouldn’t have to choose between privacy and technology. The same standards of privacy that we expect offline in the real world should apply online in our digital lives as well. To learn more about our Demand Your dotRights campaign, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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