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March 26, 2012

US Senators outraged by employers asking for Facebook passwords

The increasing practice of employers requesting password logins from Facebook or employees themselves has attracted the attention of two US senators.

By Vinod

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US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles E. Schumer have requested the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) begin a federal investigation into whether employers demanding interviewee usernames and passwords to social networking sites and email accounts are a violation of federal law.

"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?" said Schumer.

"In an age where more and more of our personal information – and our private social interactions – are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers. This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence," he added.

Schulmer also pointed out that launching an investigation is important to do before the practice becomes widespread.

"Facebook agrees, and I’m sure most Americans agree, that employers have no business asking for your Facebook password," he said.

The senators expressed concerns in their letter to the EEOC, stating that employers will have complete access to private and protected information that could cause them unlawfully to discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants.

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Both Schumer and Blumenthal pointed out that while it can be necessary to have thorough background checks for individuals seeking a job in law enforcement in high security situations, employers demanding access to information that is normally not public would give employers information that they are not allowed to ask about when making hiring decisions like age, religion, marital status, pregnancy status and so forth.

"A ban on these practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy," said Blumenthal. "An investigation by the Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will help remedy ongoing intrusions and coercive practices, while we draft new statutory protections to clarify and strengthen the law. With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information."

The two senators also announced that they are drafting legislation to address any gaps in federal law that gives employers the right to ask for personal login information from job applicants.

Both senators argued that given the past case law, this new practice of requesting login information appears to be a violation of personal privacy.

Please follow this author on Twitter @Tineka_S or comment below.

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