Here's Your Job Application. Now Give Us Your Facebook Password

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Common Dreams

Here's Your Job Application. Now Give Us Your Facebook Password

Employers asking for employees' Facebook passwords; ACLU calls it "gross breach of privacy"

by
Common Dreams staff

Some companies and government agencies are demanding Facebook passwords from prospective employees during job interviews. Civil liberties advocates including the ACLU have slammed the practice as a violation of privacy.  Unfortunately, for many who are unemployed or under-employed, the pressure to submit to such a request may be high.

Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, told the Associated Press, "It's akin to requiring someone's house keys," and called it "an egregious privacy violation."

Frederic Wolens, a Facebook spokesperson, gave a statement to MSNBC indicating that an employer asking for a prospective employee's login information would violate the terms of Facebook. "Under our terms, only the holder of the email address and password is considered the Facebook account owner. We also prohibit anyone from soliciting the login information or accessing an account belonging to someone else."

Students have not been immune to this privacy invasion either.  A minor student in Minnesota was coerced into giving her Facebook and email login information to school authorities, prompting a lawsuit from the ACLU-Minnesota.

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The Daily Mail:  Revealed: How colleges and employers ask for candidates' Facebook and email passwords during job interviews

Rather than trying to get around the pesky password protections of Facebook and email accounts, certain government agencies and colleges are cutting straight to the source.

Some extremely inquisitive employers are asking candidates to hand over to them their email and Facebook login information when they apply for a job.

Others strongly request that the candidate opens their pages in front of them and allow their would-be bosses to scroll through their private information during the interview. [...]

They say that while ‘shoulder surfing’, as the practice is called, may technically be voluntary, the vast majority of applicants feel obligated to open up their lives to their employers or risk losing the job.

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Alexis Madrigal: The Atlantic
Should Employers Be Allowed to Ask for Your Facebook Login?

The ACLU calls this policy "a frightening and illegal invasion of privacy" and I can't say that I disagree. Keep in mind that this isn't looking at what you've posted to a public Twitter account; the government agency here could look through private Facebook messages, which seems a lot like reading through your mail, paper or digital.

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Meredith Curtis: ACLU
Want a job? Password, please!

Maryland corrections officer Robert Collins approached the ACLU of Maryland late last year, disturbed that he was required to provide his Facebook login and password to the Maryland Division of Corrections (DOC) during a recertification interview. He had to sit there while the interviewer logged on to his account and read not only his postings, but those of his family and friends too.

"We live in a time when national security is the highest priority, but it must be delicately balanced with personal privacy," said Collins. "My fellow officers and I should not have to allow the government to view our personal Facebook posts and those of our friends, just to keep our jobs." [...]

The demand for Facebook login information is not only a gross breach of privacy for Officer Collins and his friends, it raises significant legal concerns under the Federal Stored Communications Act and Maryland state law, which protect privacy rights and extend protections to electronic communications.

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ACLU-MN files lawsuit against Minnewaska Area Schools

St. Paul, Minn. – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against Minnewaska Area Schools and the Pope County Sheriff's office for violating the constitutional rights of a minor student. R.S's free speech and privacy rights were violated by the school district in two separate instances involving Facebook. (To protect the privacy of the minor defendant, she will be referred to as R.S.)

In early 2011 R.S. posted a comment, while at home, on her Facebook page about her dislike of a school staff member. The school learned about the comment, and R.S. received a detention and was forced to write an apology to the staff member. She was disciplined again when she cursed on her Facebook page, complaining that someone reported her to the school. This time she was given an in-school suspension and was prohibited from attending a school field trip. The ACLU-MN contends that these sanctions violate her First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

In a second incident R.S. was brought into a school administrator's office where she was coerced to turn over (against her will) login information to her Facebook and email accounts because of allegations that she had online conversations about sex with another student off-campus. Present at the search was a local deputy along with two school officials. During this process, R.S. was called a liar and told she would be given detentions if she did not give the adults access to her accounts. R.S.'s mother was not informed about the search until after it happened. The Deputy and school officials did not have a warrant to search R.S.'s private accounts. The ACLU-MN alleges in their suit that this violated R.S.'s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. [...]

"Students do not shed their First Amendment rights at the school house gate," stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director for the ACLU-MN. "The Supreme Court ruled on that in the 1970s, yet schools like Minnewaska seem to have no regard for the standard."

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MSNBC: Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants' Facebook passwords

Employers and colleges find the treasure-trove of personal information hiding behind password-protected accounts and privacy walls just too tempting, and some are demanding full access from job applicants and student athletes. [...]

Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to "friend" a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a "reputation scoreboard" to coaches and send "threat level" warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers. [...]

Social media monitoring on colleges, while spreading quickly among athletic departments, seems to be limited to athletes at the moment. There's nothing stopping schools from applying the same policies to other students, however. And Shear says he's heard from college applicants that interviewers have requested Facebook or Twitter login information during in-person screenings. [...]

The practice seems less common among employers, but scattered incidents are gaining attention from state lawmakers. The blog Tecca.com last year showed what it said was an image of an application for a clerical job with a North Carolina police department that included the following question:

"Do you have any web page accounts such as Facebook, Myspace, etc.? If so, list your username and password."

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