ACLU: Employers demanding Facebook passwords is privacy invasion

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has spoken. Employers and prospective employers should not be asking you for your Facebook password. Doing so is invading your privacy.

Earlier this week, a story about job seekers being asked for their Facebook passwords surfaced. We've heard this one before (see links below) but the story got a lot more attention than usual because it was covered by the Associated Press. In fact, the article didn't have anything newsworthy to report, as it was just a second look at what happened two years ago when the Maryland Division of Corrections demanded the Facebook login credentials of an officer during a recertification interview.

Still, the report took a closer look at the issue of employers asking for Facebook account credentials and how it hasn't really been addressed yet (you can read the full story at CBS News). Here's an excerpt:

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.

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.

Since I had already written about these various cases, I was more interested in what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had to say. This is the same organization that helped the officer fight back against his employer and which is now helping a 12-year-old sue her school district after she was forced to hand over her Facebook credentials.

"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," ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said in a statement. "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."

I completely agree with the ACLU. My colleague David Gewirtz put it best:

There is a huge difference between public and private. Asking to view your public postings is like asking for your home address and then taking a drive by your house to see where you live. Asking for your Facebook password is like demanding the key to your house, your alarm code, and to be put on your bank account as a signer. They are very different degrees of request and it's quite unfortunate that people are conflating the two.

We can't just keep relying on the ACLU to save us from the crazies. Until there's legislation that can protect you, I would advise telling your employer or school that you don't have a Facebook account and that they can go shove it.

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