It’s scary to learn, as the Associated Press reported this week, that in these days of “social networking,” some employers are asking prospective employees to fork over their Facebook passwords, in order to better know the applicant. Yikes.
Some people willingly give out the information; others comply because they feel they can’t afford to say no, AP reported. Some refuse.
Companies that don’t ask for passwords have taken other steps, AP reported, such as asking applicants to “friend” human resource managers or to log into a company computer during an interview. It may sound friendlier than demanding a password, but it’s the same.
These invasions come after the slow but effective education of people to make their Facebook page “private.” Having done so, job seekers deserve privacy.
This isn’t about having something “to hide.” (As in, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.” This is worrisome for anyone who cares about civil rights.) This is about people, especially young people, who are used to sharing every aspect of their lives online, knowing their rights under federal equal opportunity employment laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
Facebook is a repository for all those things that employers are specifically banned from asking, even if the applicant is willing to answer. Religion. Politics. Marital status. Relationship status. Pregnancy staus. Sexual preference. Age. Likes and dislikes. On and on.
With the exception of jobs requiring true security clearance, private businesses and government have absolutely no right to request Facebook passwords.
“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,” AP reported.
Following the Associated Press report, the American Civil Liberties Union created a “demand your dotRights” campaign on Facebook. “You shouldn’t have to choose between technology and privacy,” the page says.
As life on the internet hurtles forward, refresher courses regarding privacy rights are necessary. Something is truly wrong when employers think it’s OK to ask for Facebook passwords. As the ACLU states in the blog post, “Your Facebook password is none of your boss’ business”: “The same standards of privacy that we expect offline — in the real world — should apply online in our digital lives as well.”
And if we can adhere to and enforce those existing standards, we won’t have to create separate equal opportunity laws regarding internet privacy.