In class we’ve discussed employers and law enforcement checking out social networking profiles to screen for unsavory behavior. Facial recognition technology can help police officers identify individuals in pictures (remember Nicola’s class presentation?), and hiring managers can use a “Facebook Score” to predict how successful someone would be at a job. Stories like this might influence someone to alter his or her online profiles to look more professional or to make use of privacy settings (however complicated those may be).
Here’s another thing to worry about:
Some organizations are taking pre-screening a step further, wanting full access to those profiles. Earlier this week, MSNBC.com posted an article, “Govt. agencies, colleges, demand applicants’ Facebook passwords”, reporting that employers–including government agencies–are requesting that applicants provide their log-in information for online accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and personal email.
One cited offender is Maryland’s Department of Corrections, whose practice of having applicants fill out their application with personal log-in information was stopped after a complaint by ACLU last year. An employee, Robert Collins, who had been on leave returned to work only to be told that he could not come back without disclosing his Facebook and email usernames and passwords (Listen/watch him speak about his story). ACLU picked up his case and is currently backing legislation to ban future instances like this one. The MD Department of Corrections has since resorted to “shoulder-surfing”, asking the applicants to log in onto their Facebook accounts during the job interview. Complying with request is voluntary, but job seekers often agree to the Facebook review hoping for a better chance of being hired.
Also mentioned in the MSNBC article are college athletes because, at some schools, they don’t have a choice about giving full access to their personal accounts. For example, the University of North Carolina requires student-athletes to name one coach or administrator who is given full access to and regularly monitors their social networking sites. If not, they don’t get to play.
I acknowledge that potential employers or recruiters can discover a lot of information about someone by checking out his or her Facebook, possibly finding that a candidate might be engaging in questionable activities. I also concede that if an individual has not implemented privacy settings that limit public access to a Facebook profile, that public information is fair game to be Googled, if another decided to conduct an online search.
However, asking for one’s password and full access is clearly crossing a line. Asking someone to log into his or her personal account during an interview is also intrusive. It was difficult for me to find any authorities with statements defending these actions, which might be making a point. The MD Department of Corrections has been mostly quiet since ACLU’s first complaint and subsequent legal action, and athletic departments practicing strict social media policies are also choosing not to comment (see MSNBC article). Some reasoning was initially offered to defend themselves. In the case of the MD Dept of Corrections, these were precautions supposedly to prevent the hiring of local gang members. University of North Carolina’s policy was put in place in response to student Marvin Austin, whose tweets suggested he was taking advantage of extra perks from agents and marketing representatives.
Requesting or requiring full access of personal online accounts is an invasion of privacy and also an encroachment on free speech. I see this as abuse of position of authority. What happened to state and federal background checks being enough to alert employers of shady behavior? Wouldn’t full access to someone’s personal accounts lead to potential discrimination based on information that may not have been disclosed otherwise, such as religion, sexual orientation, and political views? Having full access to a personal account goes way beyond which information would be shared in a traditional interview. It would be like going to someone’s house, reading their diary and mail, and listening in on conversations with their friends.
It’s obvious this is problematic.
Additionally, I find it troublesome that individuals are conceding to giving their log-in information. Even when something important is at stake—a job, a spot on the team—questioning the legal and ethical aspects of an intake process should come into play when someone is asking for your password. Perhaps our constantly connected culture and post-9/11 policies have created an environment in which people feel like they can and should share all of the personal details of their lives.
A couple states are introducing bills to ban behavior like that of the MD Department of Corrections. And with the attention that this issue is getting in the media in recent weeks, I expect that this will find itself in the federal courts in due time.