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Demanding Facebook passwords from job applicants could be illegal

Published: April 9, 2012 | 7:55 am
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Employers could get a hold of more than just your Facebook status.
Last month two senators asked United States Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether employers who ask job applicants for their Facebook passwords are breaking federal law, according to the Associated Press.

Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut appealed to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after discovering the practice of disclosing these passwords to employers is spreading nationwide. This issue has sparked controversy among University students.
“They can’t demand to see my letters and my correspondences with people. They can’t demand to see my emails from other individuals,” Stephen Anderson, a junior psychology major from Madison County, said. “If they can’t demand to see things of that nature, then why would they be able to demand my password?”
Jenny Chapman, a sophomore psychology major from Conyers, finds the practice unfair as well, but understands both sides of the issue.
“If you come in for an interview of course you’re going to be on your best behavior, but employers may want to see what you’re really like,” she said. “They may want to get on there just to see everything on there so the person can’t hide it [information].”
Rebecca Cunningham, a junior psychology major from Cartersville, would consider deactivating her Facebook if it became an issue for her during a job interview process.
“I don’t have anything bad on my Facebook,” she said. “But if it becomes an issue I might deactivate it until I have a job. I have friends who have done that for their internships.”
In late March, Facebook told employers they shouldn’t ask for job applicants’ passwords and threatened legal action against employers who knowingly violate their policy against sharing passwords.
Facebook also expressed concern that employers may be subject to lawsuits if they access accounts or view profiles and choose not to hire certain applicants.
“There is also a risk for employers if they take a look at someone’s Facebook page and don’t hire someone based on information that is protected by federal law,” said Marisa Pagnattaro, an associate professor in the Legal Studies department.
Facebook account holders often post information about their race, sex, age and religion, which is protected information by federal law.
Pagnattaro said she does not think legislation protects job applicants from having their Facebook accounts accessed by employers.
“I hope the U.S. adopts legislation similar to what’s been done in Germany, which has significant restrictions in protecting social media, unless there’s some kind of direct business necessity,” she said.
Although Pagnattaro thinks asking for Facebook passwords is a violation of privacy, she thinks some employers try to access accounts out of fear of being sued for negligent hiring.
“Sometimes employers will make the argument that if they don’t check everything that’s out there in social media and they hire someone who turns out to be a problematic employee they may get sued for negligent hiring,” she said.
According to the AP, the senators who brought the practice to the national spotlight are drafting a more inclusive bill that will cover “gaps” that laws as of now do not.


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