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Should Your Employer Have Access to Your Facebook Account?

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privacyrisksfacebookYesterday, I read a report in the American magazine The Atlantic which asked the question Should Employers Be Allowed to Ask for Your Facebook Login?

It’s the story of a man in the US state of Maryland who applied for a job at the state’s Department of Corrections (prison service) and who was obliged to disclose his Facebook log-in credentials during the job interview. As The Atlantic tells it:

[...] According to  an ACLU letter sent to the Maryland Department of Corrections [PDF file], the organization requires that new applicants and those applying for recertifications give the government "their social media account usernames and personal passwords for use in employee background checks."

Let’s get this straight: this particular organization is saying that if you want a job with them, you have to give them access to your Facebook account (and of your other social presences online) which means they can log into that account with your credentials, ie, as you. All for the stated purpose of conducting "employee background checks."

In an initial exchange of tweets about this story with  Sue Llewellyn, one of my Twitter community,  I said:

[...] I think there’s an ‘it depends’ answer in there somewhere re employer right to ask for login info.

What did I mean by that? Would an employer have any right to do what the Maryland Department of Corrections (DOC) is doing?

I clarify my comment by citing this statement from the ACLU’s letter:

[...] we believe the DOC policy constitutes a frightening and illegal invasion of privacy for DOC applicants and employees – as well those who communicate with them electronically via social media.

Neither Officer Collins nor his Facebook "friends" deserve to have the government snooping about their private electronic communications. Login information gives the DOC access to communications that are intended to be private, such as personal email messages and wall postings viewable only by those selected individuals who have been granted access. For social media users who maintain private accounts, the  DOC demand for login information is equivalent to demands that they produce all of their private correspondence and photographs for review, or permit the government to listen in on their personal telephone calls, as a condition of employment. Such demands would be unconscionable, and  there is no basis for treating electronic communications differently. While employers may permissibly incorporate some limited review of public internet postings into their background investigation procedures, review of password-protected materials overrides the privacy protections users have erected and thus violates their reasonable expectations of privacy in these communications.

That’s a well-stated position and argument supporting the reasonable rights of the individual to privacy, sentiments that I believe are equally viable here in the UK and in other countries in addition to the USA. Even (or perhaps especially) when employees ignore common sense and disclose far too much personal information in their online social networking profiles. And let’s not forget that access to someone’s account also means access to information about the friends that person is connected to.

The employer has reasonable rights, too, let’s not forget that either, as well as responsibilities to ensure the integrity, security and safety of the workplace, among many other things, for other employees as well as other people (children, for instance, in a school setting). Yet the only circumstances I can imagine where an employer is given access to an employee’s Facebook or any other online social presence account are either with the employee’s freely- and willingly-given permission, or under an order from a court of law. No matter what job someone is applying for, you don’t need the potential or actual employee’s social network log in details in order to do background checks that would satisfy such investigation. I can see no right for any organization to require login access to someone’s Facebook account a prerequisite for employment.

Incidentally, take a look at the comments to the story in The Atlantic – over 80 as I write this post, many with compelling arguments to support views highly critical of the DOC.

Do you agree that carte-blanche employer access to Facebook and other places online as described in this example must be off limits? Watch the  video of Officer Robert Collins explaining the circumstances as he sees them.

What does it all say about the DOC’s understanding of what Facebook is and what people do with it?

What’s your take on this story?

Originally published on NevilleHobson.com

Should Your Employer Have Access to Your Facebook Account?
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  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk/ KJ

    How do they expect anyone to agree to this? I’d love to here the outcome of the court case.

  • http://sminorgs.net Courtney Hunt

    This story has generated a mini media firestorm in the past week. I have been sharing my thoughts on various articles and blog posts, and I finally decided to write my own reflection as well. Here

  • http://www.rygestopinformation.dk/ Rygestop

    Netx your employer decieds how you should vote if you wana keep you job. Crasy!

  • http://apennyandchange.pennyleisch.com Penny J. Leisch

    The employers aren’t allowed to ask if you have children or plan to have them. They aren’t allowed to ask you to bring today’s mail to the interview. Exactly why should they be allowed to ask for a password to a private account? This gives them access to information that violates the law (children, religion, etc). Assuming they could do it legally, there’s another problem. What happens when someone’s identity gets stolen or the applicant’s bank account gets wiped out? Not everyone is proactive about using different passwords on every site. Other people simply don’t understand all of the risks and use combinations that any hacker would love.

  • Gregory Dennis

    It’s just another way of having your “Big Brother” allegedly “looking out for your best interests”.

    I would have walked out, as well. It’s complete and total BS to have ANYONE (I don’t care WHO it is) asking for a password to anything. That’s why people HAVE passwords. I don’t care if Obama himself pulled me aside and said my Facebook is vital to National Security. I’d tell him to kiss my *beep*, too.

    You wanna do a Google search? Knock yourself out. P*** test me? Fine. Arrest check? Go for it. Criminal background check? Have fun. But my time is MINE. Not YOURS. You want my passwords, I want a million bucks. Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want”. I’d ask for his passwords to his bank accounts, along with his routing and account numbers and copies of his statements. Also, his wife’s measurements and some photos, too.

    It seems that every year, this nation loses more and more privacy under the veil of being for the public good.

    It started with several undertrained and overpaid wannabe “security” feeling my balls every time I want to fly somewhere, and now continues with this.

    If the government has its way, all houses will be glass, and there will be no more privacy to invade, as you will be a walking reality show, with cameras everywhere broadcasting footage for all to see. No editing, just plenty of recording.

    Don’t worry about being recorded, though. You’ll be much safer without such things as privacy. Remember, if you have privacy, then the terrorists win.

  • Jennifer J.

    I just posted a Facebook status about this yesterday and everyone is in agreement that this is obviously very wrong. First I can’t imagine WHY a company would even have the audacity to ask; that tells me a LOT about them. It tells me that THEY have something to hide and they’re afraid of being exposed. I’d sign a contract stating that I won’t talk about them on my social networking sites, BUT I REFUSE to ever give them my username/password.

    In addition, it’s a violation of Facebook TOS to do so. I’ll post some other points that are important to remember in regard to this issue as well:

    ” Giving you access to my Facebook account or accessing my Facebook account is in violation of the Terms and Services Agreement that I agreed to when I started using Facebook, sections 3.5 and 3.12 specifically. If I am willing to violate those services to get this job then I would be willing to violate other agreements entered into for example non-disclosure agreements I was required to sign to keep this job. Also accessing my Facebook account is tantamount to asking for information such as age, marital status, sexual orientation, etc that are attached to my profile and which you are not permitted to ask me about in an interview. Therefore I must conclude that current law makes it illegal for you to request my login information.

    Experts opinion on the topic:

    “Federal law already provides some guidelines. Employers may use sites such as Twitter and Facebook for background checks if, for instance, the site is publicly accessible, if the employer doesn’t create an alias to get the information or if the employer doesn’t use the information gleaned in discriminatory ways.

    [Employment attorney Amy] Semmel also pointed out that it’s not just a violation of the applicant’s privacy. “I’d argue that it poses a very serious concern” for every friend attached to that person.

    Ultimately, the practice of even asking for your password violates the terms of service for Facebook. But those terms carry questionable legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains fuzzy.

    Entering a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, however, is regarded by the Department of Justice as a federal crime. During recent congressional testimony, though, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.”

    In short: If we want this to stop we have to fight it. Refuse to hand it over if at ALL possible. If you don’t get hired? Take them to court on the basis of discrimination. You have MILLIONS who would stand behind you; including me. That and it would expose what companies are using this practice as part of their hiring process.

  • http://www.jumbocdinvestments.com/ ChrisCD

    Absolutely ridiculous. Private info is just that private. If they want to do public searches go for it, but to ask for the password, no way.

    I would turn the table on them. I would say you give me all of your employees’ passwords and I will give you mine.

    cd :O)

  • Raffello

    This is Crazy!!! I would of RAN out!!!

  • Brenda

    This is why I work for myself :)

    What’s next? Employers asking for your ATM card and code and to put them in your Will? This is harassment! If I ever find myself at a job interview (which I make damn sure I will never have to) and stupid requests are made I would just be so thrilled to tell them to F-off.

    I LOVE working for myself. No BS, no hassle, no drama, take a day off whenever I want to, no quotas, no lame micromanaging manager, no harassment, I can be late and no one cares, no excuses and the list goes on :)

  • Rob Kaye

    No problem, just tell them you do not have a Facebook or Twitter account and if they look just tell them it is not you. Change your profile data accordingly and don’t worry.

  • http://www.bestwaytoloseweighthq.net CM Herold

    I would never give any of my passwords to anyone, even my current employer. I would not have thought twice about telling an interviewer how I felt about giving my password to him or her. I would say it is not his or her business. I would also say I’m offended to be asked such a question. Also, interview questions like that are red flag warnings that the environment would be dysfunctional and stressful. I would run like hell too.

  • http://lvhandymanservice.com TKL

    It’s good when you can pick where you want to work. Not all can. Having said that the governments loooong reach into every ones life has made it requiered for employers cover themselves. If an employee uses his facebook account to tip his wall friends about strategic moves or other private company moves or even could put management or the business and employees in jepordy then I would think about checking what they are saying about the company. Too many people today spill their guts out in public. public places just aren’t where you bear your soul. many nowdays don’t get that.

  • David Sage

    I feel it is not their business. What you do or what happens after work as long as it is not on the compaines grounds is your business. If I show up to work wide eyed and awake who should care if I was hanging by a tree all night. I do like ChrisCD O you give me all your worker and your password and then I will give you mine. I am there to work and how I play after work as long as I am not in jail should be my own business.

  • http://danatanseo.com Dana Tan

    The only person more stupid than an employer who demands an employees Facebook password is an employee who willingly gives it to them. Justin Bassett did exactly the right thing.

  • Michael

    That’s ridiculous. He did the right thing, especially in withdrawing his application

  • Tom

    This is a disgrace! Surely it can’t be legal for an employer to request this information, can it?

  • Jason

    I am sickened by the way most of this generation of people think! We the people have an absolute right to privacy. An employer does not own you… You work for them to EARN a living for you and your family. We are forced to give our Social Security number to everyone when it has absolutely nothing to do with our retirement. It has become an identification number that can make or destroy you. No one stands up to tyrants, we all just walk willingly into the meat grinder day after day and allow these idiotic corporations to walk all over our rights, liberty and freedoms. I am a business owner and would never ask an person that has given their time, the only true resource that we have, to my company in trade for money for passwords of any kind. The only reason I would ask for personal information is to satisfy the maf….ooops I mean the government. :)

  • http://glory-in-nature.org Jim Alseth

    I would never accept a job from a prospective employer who was so intrusive as to ask for passwords. But how about looking at this issue from a whole different angle, a perspective that seems to be forgotten today?

    Totally apart from the focus of “what are people seeing about me or who’s intruding on my privacy now?”, why don’t we just begin to live in such a way, with wholeness and integrity, that there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about anyway?

    Privacy-proof living we might call it…

  • Kelley

    I can’t believe it would be legal for an employer who hasn’t even hired you yet to ask for such personal information. Why would they need that? There is nothing there that is any of their business. Justin absolutely did the right thing and I certainly hope this is not going to be a trend in hiring practices.

  • Mark

    I wonder what happens when you tell them that you dont have a facebook acct? I dont have one, so what would happen in that case?

  • http://bit.ly/GNLrEx Bill

    I just posted a rather lengthy blog post in regards to this. Imagine the ramifications of the following:

    A person is of a particular religious belief – be it Christian, Muslim, Atheist. That is their personal matter and one that is protected by law and is forbidden to be asked during the hiring process.

    By allowing access, information could be gathered that is otherwise illegal for an employer to gather – as many people are part of religious groups, tick the box next to their religion or otherwise interact with it.

    Now here’s another thought – if your family, friends or other people on your lists have set their profiles to private, meaning only the people they have added (such as you) can see their information and you provide the prospective employer your account information, then you’ve just violated the privacy of ALL the people you are connected with. My wager is you would pay the price legally, not the prospective employer.

  • http://csomag-kuldes.com csomag kuldes

    There are plenty of jobs out there. If an employer is that intrusive even before you are hired, what would they want to do with you once you are hired? Very fishy and I sure would not let them do it to me.

    While it’s true they are ones issuing my paycheck, but I am the one making them the money.
    So, Bug off and M.Y.O.B

  • http://www.amazon.com/5th-Dimension-Password-Keeper/dp/146991882X Michael E

    Walking out is not only the right thing to do, it is a moral imperative.

    In fact, the employer should be publically and severely punished for even asking such a question. This type of thing must be nipped in the bud – NOW. Before it becomes any sort of “standard procedure”.

    If necessary, we must completely destroy this (or any) company who dares to demand such information. They must be made into an example so that future companies will not even dare to think that they have the right to ask for any sort of access to our private information.

    Stop this now or the future will be a bleak place indeed.

  • William Proseus

    Requiring a password or having you log in so they can access the information is the same thing. Both give access to information that is none of their business. It would be like an interviewee asking to see the companies employee records so he could examine the companies laundry. I believe they would be calling foul at the top of their voices if the shoe was on the other foot. If someone is not defaming a company or creating an image of themselves publicly that is bad for the company it is not any business what the person is doing. Private needs to mean something to a company.

  • http://thetamingoftheginger.blogspot.com/ Kelly

    Why in the world would someone want to work for someone that would ask for such information? It’s bad enough that we have to submit ourselves to credit checks (C’mon, the state of my credit has nothing to do with my work ethic – personal hardships, layoffs and a plethora of other things affect my credit, but it has nothing to do with how hard I’ll work for you).
    Even if you take every precautionary method available, your name will appear somewhere in some search engine. A simple search will allow an employer to see just enough. There’s no need for them to have access to your passwords.
    The fact that someone would actually request this information is ridiculous. Your work ethic shouldn’t be judged based on your social media life. What about the past? I’m sure there have been plenty of wild and crazy people that showed up for work every day and worked their butts off – but they kept their social life out of it and the decision to hire them had nothing to do with their social actions outside of work.
    It’s truly an amazing thing – how we are all connected to one another via a simple screen. But clearly there is a dark side to all of this as well. When employers are asking for passwords that should never be shared with anyone for any reason, you have to ask yourself…what’s next?

  • http://odd-jobber.co.uk odd-jobber

    Has anyone got irrefutable proof of this practise.
    If so the company should be outed on all the social networks to nip this “bullying in the bud”.
    Monitoring phone calls,emails and web activity whilst working is one level we have succumbed to, activity outside of the work environment is outside of the work environment and must stay that way.

  • http://www.emeraldene.com.au Hervey Bay Accommodation

    In the interests of a fair interview process, would it not be acceptable under those circumstances for the interviewee to ask the prospective boss for HIS password as well…. after all, the employer may not want a drunk or bad mouthing employee, but a new employee does not want a drunk and abusive boss either!!

  • http://lol Michael Banker

    HaHa Well it was to be expected. The selling of total disregard for any citizens personal privacy or for them to expect any was started long ago. It was inevitable, like blindly following corrupt politicians.

    What kind of person or company would ask for that information and why. Seems suspect to me, they probably hide or don’t have open customer testimonials either.

    In a world where we as people pay our hard earned money to a company and they don’t even have people answering the phone to help us make their products work.

    Just don’t work there, any company that doesn’t even have respect for the basic rights of other people is trouble. EVIL

    This Zombie police state mentality is hurting our entire nation.

    WOW thats insane. Do they publish all of that information about themselves, ask them for their passwords.

  • http://lol Michael Banker

    HaHa Well it was to be expected. The selling of total disregard for any citizens personal privacy or for them to expect any was started long ago. It was inevitable, like blindly following corrupt politicians.

    What kind of person or company would ask for that information and why. Seems suspect to me, they probably hide or don’t have open customer testimonials either.

    In a world where we as people pay our hard earned money to a company and they don’t even have people answering the phone to help us make their products work.

    Just don’t work there, any company that doesn’t even have respect for the basic rights of other people is trouble. EVIL

    This Zombie police state mentality is hurting our entire nation.

    WOW thats insane. Do they publish all of that information about themselves, ask them for their passwords.

  • Marcello

    Anybody willing to work for any Department of Corrections is a nazi and walking piece of shit. Anybody interested in participating in a system that warehouses other people should hang their head in utter shame at what they’ve become. Typical fascist, wants to work for Big Brother but cries when they turn the tables on him. Facebook is for girls and the boys that stalk them, grow up.

  • http://www.fashionestore.com Len

    It’s outrageous that this company and others would ask for such personal information.

    Anyone from the employer’s side who tries to justify actions like this, is someone with no sense of ethics or values – period.

    I too, would like to see how such an invasion of privacy would stand up to a court challenge in the United States, Canada, and other countries.

  • andrew crowe

    Interesting that most of us want to keep our own stuff private, but expect governments and corporations to be transparent! Is there some contradiction here?

  • kevin

    Its such an invasion of privacy, it makes me shudder. Not that I’m all that surprised. In a bad economy like this, companies can really slap people around, and many people have to shut up and take it. Bravo to the kid; not only for telling them to shove it and walking out, but for publicizing the whole thing and bringing it out in the open where the eyes of the public are on them. Maybe we will have an unemployed-spring uprising. Personally, I am even against pee tests with out cause. What’s next, rectal exams?

  • Suz

    I have no life. Seriously – NOTHING I would like to hide from anyone. But I am also not on Google in any searches for anything, and my FB is set to the highest security – I am a very private person.

    If a company asked me for my FB password – I would walk out. I wouldn’t even discuss it. I could NEVER work for a company that is so paranoid about their employees or image – or WHATEVER that they needed to police in such an invasive way.

    I would rather be unemployed.

  • Glenn Swanson

    Studies have shown that the level of privacy afforded independent citizens, in any society, is the key component to civility and success.

    In the rush to use any and all technology to assure our decisions, we are unraveling and distorting the fabric that has made America great.

    Hiring is an art and should be done from the gut. If we are given to judge humans by interpreting behaviors out of context, then we are all guilty of imperfection.

    The human condition has no guarantees.

  • Barb

    it is definately an invasion of privacy..would the interviewer be willing to give the applicant his/her personal information in exchange?

  • Jerrie DeRose

    Many prospective employers have ways to get into you facebook account to find out what you have posted. My 22 year old son, a college student majoring in computer Science, applied for a job three months. He was told by the prospective employer what they had seen on his facebook page, although their not hiring him did not have anything to do with that. The manager advised my son to go ande delete any posts that a potential employer might consider as an employment risk, etc. And yes, I think the young man was right to walk out. In addition, one of my son’s professors told them he had read an article in a national journal that two men who previously worked for the NSA (National Security Agency)reported that the NSA was building a top secret data center deep in the Utah mountains. Even they were not privvy on what’s its use would be for. It may not be long before the government can access all of our data including facebook, twitter, and other social media accounts.

  • Richard O

    I’m retired now so I don’t have to worry about it. However, there is no way in hell I would ever give my password(s) out to anybody.

  • Harald Schweizer

    There is a third way around this dilemma. I would, for example, tell a prospective employer that they will not receive my passwords, but then ask them to simply look at my facebook account after I myself log in. It keeps my passwords out of their view and at the same time lets them look at what I have on my facebook. I think that, depending on the job you are applying for, certain private activities are relevant in an evaluation of your suitability, particularly if they are visible to various people on the Internet. Letting them look at your facebook in a controlled environment would address both individual privacy and the employer’s legitimate need to know.

  • http://www.mortgage-investments.com Norman

    The answer is simple. Cancel your Facebook account. Why would you want to post private stuff on it anyway?

    Your friends really don’t care if you have a cold, what purse you just bought or where you went to dinner.

    Of course it is outrageous to ask for a password. Nothing would prevent the person being given that password from posting false and defamatory things themself.

    It also violates your right to protection from discrimination on marital, age and other grounds. If an employer is not allowed to ask thse questions on a job application, they should not be allowed to find them on your facebook account.

  • http://turningads.net Virgilio abalos Sr

    There are some alternative remedies for both the employer and the applicant. One is for the employer to have FB account and send friend request to the applicant’s FB account who will accept the request. Thereby, there will be a harmonious employer/applicant relationship.

  • Edie

    Unfortunately, walking away from a job you need (to pay your bills) isn’t always a good option. And those who are already employed, and have had the bad experience of going through this process, may not be able to afford losing their job.

    I am one of those people who doesn’t have the luxury to just walk away. Instead I’ve chosen to close all my social networking accounts, until this idiotic practice becomes completely illegal and punishable by law. After all, I have a right to privacy and I will protect that right any way I can.

    Now I know this choice is not for everyone but it is still a choice.

  • thierry kauffmann

    Answer: No. Question: would the person who came up with this Matrix-style question step forward and explain his vision of the world?

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