Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., made the request along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., who last week said he’s writing legislation that would outlaw employers from requesting Facebook passwords. The issue was first reported by Bob Sullivan of msnbc.com’s Red Tape Chronicles three weeks ago.
On Monday, the senators asked the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether the practice violates federal laws — specifically, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the the Stored Communications Act (SCA).
We urge the DOJ to investigate whether this practice violates the Stored Communication Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The SCA prohibits intentional access to electronic information without authorization or intentionally exceeding that authorization, 18 U.S.C. § 2701, and the CFAA prohibits intentional access to a computer without authorization to obtain information, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C). Requiring applicants to provide login credentials to secure social media websites and then using those credentials to access private information stored on those sites may be unduly coercive and therefore constitute unauthorized access under both SCA and the CFAA.
“Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries – why should they be able to ask them for their Facebook passwords and gain unwarranted access to a trove of private information about what we like, what messages we send to people, or who we are friends with?” Schumer said in a statement.
Like Blumenthal, Schumer cited how job seekers may feel obligated to give up access to their Facebook accounts or other personal information in order to get the job.
“Facebook agrees, and I’m sure most Americans agree, that employers have no business asking for your Facebook password,” Schumer added, refrencing Facebook’s official statement on the practice.
On Friday, Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer on policy, decried the practice of employers asking for access to Facebook accounts. She went on to say that such requests are a direct violation of Facebook’s terms of service and “it also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.” Source/Credit to Helen A.S. Popkin for msnbc.msn.com
As employers become increasingly selective about whom they hire, it appears that some are taking the bold step of asking applicants for full access to their Facebook profiles, which means handing over one’s username and password. It is unclear how widespread this trend is, but one thing is clear: while social media has been a boon to job seekers’ ability to expand and utilize their network, there are many pitfalls associated with these sites that can derail a successful job search.
Job search authority John A. Challenger, CEO of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., says employers should not have the right to ask for usernames and passwords and that candidates should refused to do so, but admits that not complying is likely to result in being eliminated from consideration. That is, unless states enact laws to protect job applicants’ right to privacy.
“That being said, there are plenty of people out there who leave their social media profiles open for all to see,” says Challenger. “It is important to understand that more and more employers are looking at whatever they can to inform the hiring decision. Whether it is a photo from a college party posted on Facebook or incendiary comment on Twitter, employers are looking for anything that reveals more than candidates typically share in interviews. Even a seemingly innocent remark on some social or political issue could put your candidacy at risk, if the hiring manager doesn’t happen to agree with your point of view.”
“If asked, you can always say no, but that response may be harmful to your chances,” says Schwefel. “A much better way to shine in an interview might be to edit your social networking sites in such a way that they would reflect positively on you if in fact a potential employer did have your password, and did login and review your social networking history.”
So what can job seekers do to maximize the use of social media for the job search while minimizing the risk?
“As a candidate, you have the choice of sharing or not sharing your social networking sites, but as long as you know there is a possibility of being asked, or having a potential look up what information you are already sharing publicly, the best option is to make sure all your social sites reflect well on you as a candidate, or delete your social sites until you have landed the job,” says Schwefel. “The good news is that it is always your choice, but remember there are consequences with every option you choose.” Source: Matt Krumrie for The Minneapolis Workplace Examiner
When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.
Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn’t see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.
Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.
In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person’s social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.
“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it “an egregious privacy violation.”
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 nondisparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.
Asking for a candidate’s password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.
Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother’s death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.
“I needed my job to feed my family. I had to,” he recalled,
After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.
“To me, that’s still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy,” said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland’s legislation.
Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.
And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff’s office has been one of several Illinois sheriff’s departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.
Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that “speaks well of the people we have apply.”
When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said “it depends on the situation” but could include “inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior.”
In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff’s department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch center and for law enforcement positions.
“In the past, we’ve talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends,” said Capt. Mike Harvey. “Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them.”
Harvey said investigators look for any “derogatory” behavior that could damage the agency’s reputation.
E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book “The Twitter Job Search Guide,” said job seekers should always be aware of what’s on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.
Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it’s not violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she’s not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.
“I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you’re dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site,” she said.
More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.
Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.
Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant’s work history.
The company assumes “that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently,” she said.
Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network’s terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.
The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.
But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.
“Volunteering is coercion if you need a job,” Andrews said.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.
In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.
“I think asking for account login credentials is regressive,” he said. “If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can’t afford to stand up for your belief.” Sources: Manuel Valdes who can be reached at https://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes and Shannon McFarland who can be reached at https://twitter.com/shanmcf .