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Want A Job: Give Us Your Facebook Password

Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal asks, “Should Employers Be Allowed to Ask for Your Facebook Login?” He’s not being hypothetical:

The American Civil Liberties Union has taken up the cause of a Maryland man who was forced to cough up his Facebook password during a job interview with the Department of Corrections in that state.

According to an ACLU letter sent to the Maryland Department of Corrections, 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.”

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.

It seems a whole lot like that. While I think the prospective employee has a lower expectation of privacy when applying for a government job, especially a particularly sensitive one like military, intelligence, and law enforcement positions, there are limits. And, I’m sorry, “If you don’t like it, don’t apply to work there” has some limits, too.

Should employers Google the names of prospective employees and perhaps check out their public Facebook and Twitter profiles? For many white collar jobs, I think that’s reasonable. But accessing private information seems out of bounds. Indeed, if they can demand to look at the inside of yourFacebook account, why not your Gmail account?

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. This strikes me as pretty outrageous.

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  2. This is a tricky area. There really isn’t such a thing as a “right to privacy” in online communications in a public forum, and if someone has their Facebook privacy settings set in such a way that someone can see your account without actually friending you then any argument that your privacy is violated would go out the window/

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  3. @Doug:

    That is true about wall posts, but not about private messages. Like James said: how is that any different than having to give them your Gmail account? Or, for that matter, allowing them to go through your snail mail?

    And in regards to your example: they wouldn’t need the password for that.

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  4. Steve,

    When it gets to the level of private message then, yea,there’s an argument that someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    The interesting thing is that, legally, it would be much easier to make an argument that government employers should be forbidden from making this a condition of employment than it would to make the argument that private employers should be forbidden.

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  5. Linda says:

    I don’t have a Facebook account, nor do I want one. They seem to get many people into hot water, and with all the negativity I’ve heard regarding their privacy, or lack thereof, I feel I’m better off to just skip the whole mess.

    It does strike me as a bit intrusive to require their logins though.

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  6. Dr. Michael Blankenship says:

    Please keep in mind that most employers are looking for reasons NOT to hire an applicant. Don’t give them any ammunition to use against you. And also remember that most employers will not provide a reason why you did not receive an offer of employment.

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  7. Can I assume that everyone agrees that if a prospective employer Google’s your name and finds something they don’t like, it’s okay for them not to hire you?

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  8. Gustopher says:

    Does not having a Facebook account disqualify an applicant for a job, and if so, does this result in a disproportionate affect against a protected class.

    When I see something like this, I just wonder if they are trying to keep out blacks or old people.

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  9. Can I assume that everyone agrees that if a prospective employer Google’s your name and finds something they don’t like, it’s okay for them not to hire you?

    Of course: that’s public information. The part I find outrageous is the notion that they would ask for my login information.

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  10. Gustopher says:

    “Can I assume that everyone agrees that if a prospective employer Google’s your name and finds something they don’t like, it’s okay for them not to hire you?”

    The employer may be in hot water if they do so. There are lots of questions I am not allowed to ask in an interview, such as “do you have kids? Are you pregnant? Just what gender are you anyway?” By searching for a candidate on Google, they risk coming acrossthis information.

    A smart employer would have someone else Google on their behalf, and return carefully filtered information. Or risk getting sued.

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  11. There are lots of questions I am not allowed to ask in an interview, such as “do you have kids? Are you pregnant? Just what gender are you anyway?” By searching for a candidate on Google, they risk coming acrossthis information.

    An interesting point.

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  12. Michael says:

    How is this substantially different from the DoC asking for a key to your house so they can check your medicine cabinet and under your mattress? Surely they’re more likely to find something relevant to the position you are applying for there than on Facebook.

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  13. Richard Gardner says:

    Doug M Wrote:
    “Can I assume that everyone agrees that if a prospective employer Google’s your name and finds something they don’t like, it’s okay for them not to hire you?”

    If you google my name you will find out that I’m a psychiatrist quoted in lots of child dispute cases over “Parent Alienation Syndrome” (PAS). I’m absolutely loathed by one side or another.
    And I committed suicide in 2003.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_A._Gardner

    Obviously not me. But if you google me that is what you’ll find.

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  14. jd says:

    In addition to an end run around labor and discrimination laws, there’s the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act being used against violations of website TOSs, and (being a government facility) the chilling effect on freedom of speech and peaceable assembly (in the digital age).

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  15. Richard Gardner says:

    This little link was on Instapundit today on how to research people for free
    http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/219593/how_to_do_an_online_background_check_for_free.html

    I’ve used criminalsearches.com a few time myself to check out new acquaintances.

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  16. Sandra says:

    And one reason why I will NOT apply for Governmental, or contractor to the government positions. It’s enough that i served for 22 years in Uncle Sam’s Air Circus, (USAF), that I held “totally Stupid” and other beyond ridiculous clearances, and enough I still wake up some days with nightmares that I never left, or of things that “could have happened” but didn’t.

    No person NEEDS to see and read my notes to my children, or to friends. So long as I am not a member of any group or organization that seeks the violent overthrow of the Federal Government, what I do, or don’t do is NONE OF THE GOVERNMENT’S concern.

    It’s bad enough that we open ourselves to identity theft when you HAVE to enter sensitive information, like your Social Security Account Number (which was not purposed for individual identification, SSAN Privacy Act of 1974), or personal data like “mother’s maiden name” or father’s birthplace.

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  17. anjin-san says:

    In a similar situation, I think I would just call my attorney directly from the interview. That might get their attention.

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  18. [...] Want A Job: Give Us Your Facebook Password. Category: National News, Social Media Tags: aclu, man forced to give password to [...]

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  19. [...] Want A Job: Give Us Your Facebook Password. Category: News, social media Tags: aclu, man forced to give password to [...]

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  20. deborah budd says:

    "A bit intrusive"?  Really?  This goes way beyond the bounds of acceptable hiring practices.  As publicly as many of us now live our online lives, I guess we could have seen this coming, but to my mind, demanding personal login/password info is excessive and probably illegal under current law.  It would have to be one damn fine pending job offer for me to even consider such a request… and I like to think I'd still tell them to take a hike.

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  21. Adam Snider says:

    This is certainly more than "a bit intrustive." This is akin to an employer demanding to have access to your email, or to read through or snail mail, or to tap your phones for a month prior to making the decision to hire you.
    This is a violation of privacy at the most basic level. 

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  22. Gina Flak says:

    They can now discriminate based on all of that information they are not supposed to ask for in an interview, including age and marital status … in the process giving rejected applicants something to sue over.

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