Quick Takes: Employers Asking For Facebook Passwords

Prying May Cause Unwitting Bias

There is a growing trend among employers across the nation to ask prospective workers for their Facebook passwords. Once employers can access the kind of personal information that is available on Facebook, they are liable to discriminate illegally, whether that discrimination is intentional or not.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Information available on Facebook, such as wall posts in foreign languages and messages relating to cultural events, can give employers information they are federally prohibited from accessing. Title VII protection also extends to relationship status — a class of information that is even more readily available on Facebook. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Stern School of Business, employers implicitly associate the “married” status in women with motherhood, and less time to devote to work. Thus, married women whose Facebook accounts are accessed by prospective employers are among the groups that may face discrimination.

The LGBT community is protected by a number of state laws, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, which stipulates that sexual orientation information may be neither used nor solicited during the hiring process. Any employment bias that results from access to posts that contain an applicant’s sexual identity is illegal, at least in the state of California. When they Facebook-stalk potential employees, employers open themselves up to biases and risk violating anti-discrimination regulations. As such, they should be prohibited from doing so.

— Ayan kusari
Staff Writer

Access is Fair Aspect of Hiring Process

As job applicants become more adept at hiding their Facebook profiles, certain employers are requesting that applicants give their prospective companies a means to access their profiles. Some states have retaliated — the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland claims this is a “violation of personal privacy,” and wants the state to instate a social media privacy bill. California should not forbid employer access — this law would unfairly stifle an employer’s right to choose their own hiring and screening processes.

Employers need to screen for employees in an effective manner, or else they can face lawsuits for their employees’ negligent or harmful behavior. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy organization, has a webpage explaining how companies need background checks to understand an applicant’s character. Employers who feel that Facebook provides valuable character insight have the right to ask applicants for viewing access, as they have the right to set their own application requirements to a certain extent. 

There are ways that people can limit the amount of personal information made public to employers. Many job seekers change their last name on their personal Facebook and then create a separate profile to share with employers, thus separating their personal life from work. It is ultimately an applicant’s choice to relinquish Facebook privacy to their employers — their basic privacy rights are still intact.

Restricting how employers use Facebook for background checks impedes on employer rights. California is already full of laws that discourage people from becoming an employer—it should avoid adding a social media privacy law to that pile.

— Chris Roteliuk
Staff Writer

Intrusion Violates Privacy Rights


Companies across the U.S. have been recently asking potential employees to reveal their Facebook login information as part of the interview process. This practice is hugely controversial and is also a basic violation of individual privacy rights.

Obtaining access to an individual’s Facebook is just as invasive as rummaging through their physical mailbox or their email inbox. But things aren’t completely black and white. Cases regarding privacy are common in modern courts of law mostly because of the unstated yet implicit rights to privacy in the Constitution. 

Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are questioning whether obtaining employee Facebook passwords is a violation of federal privacy laws and have requested that the Justice Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission begin investigations. They believe that this employee practice could violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prevents third parties from accessing a computer to obtain personal information. In addition, the Stored Communications Act prohibits anyone from intentionally accessing electronic information without authorization.

In response to this trend, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote on the company’s Facebook and Privacy Page last week that it is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for employers to solicit a Facebook password. This is all in hopes that users will continue to feel that they can have a life in social media without worrying about their jobs being on the line.

— Revathy Sampath-Kumar
Staff Writer