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Facebook and Senator Fire Back at Password Snooping Employers

Facebook and senator vow to protect Facebook passwords from prying employers.

Password snooping employers demanding access to Facebook accounts got an earful from Facebook Friday when it issued a harsh statement condemning the practice. Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, wrote on a company blog: "We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s right the thing to do."

Earlier this week U.S. senator from Connecticut Richard Blumenthal also to pledged to file legislation to outlaw the practice. It's an unreasonable invasion of privacy and should be banned, Blumenthal told Politico in an interview earlier this week.

He vowed to file a bill to address the practice "in the very near future."

Facebook's Egan echoed the same sentiments adding that seeking a potential employee's password could expose the employer to "unanticipated legal liability" adding " As a user, you shouldn’t be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job."

Egan said Facebook updated its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to address this issue.

Password Police to the Rescue

Blumenthal isn't alone in being revolted by job creators squeezing job seekers and others for their social networking passwords. Legislation has been filed in Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey to address the issue.

"This is a huge invasion of privacy," the sponsor of the New Jersey legislation, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, said in a statement.

"It's really no different than asking someone to turn over a key to their house," he contended.

"In this job market, especially, employers clearly have the upper hand," he continued. "Demanding this information is akin to coercion when it might mean the difference between landing a job and not being able to put food on the table for your family."

Burzichelli's bill would:

  • prohibit an employer from requiring a current or prospective employee to provide or disclose any user name, password or other means for accessing a personal account or service through an electronic communications device.
  • prohibit an employer from requiring a prospective employee to waive or limit any protection granted under the bill as a condition of applying for or receiving an offer of employment.
  • prohibit retaliation or discrimination against an individual who might file a complaint or testify as part of an investigation into violations of the law.

Violations of the proposed law would carry a fine of $1000 for each first offense and $2500 for each subsequent violation.

Legislative interest in Facebook password snatching by employers was sparked Monday by an Associated Press report that some companies and government agencies were going beyond eyeballing social networking pages to plumb details about the lives of current or prospective workers.

In addition to asking for passwords, the AP reported, employers are asking their charges to "friend" HR managers

, log on to their Facebook account during job interviews and non-disparagement agreements to prevent an employee from bad-mouthing a company through social media.

One Human Resources expert was horrified by the growing practice of prying into workers' lives through social media. “Asking a candidate to open up their private profile and network for you to see is not social recruiting," Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite, told PCWorld."It is the old-fashioned behavior of a bully."

Whether it's bullying or not, for the most part, the behavior is perfectly legal.

"Where the government is the employer, people have Fourth Amendment rights not to be searched," Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, explained to PCWorld. "And to the extent that employers are requiring employees to hand over this information, one could argue that it's an unconstitutional search."

"Whether it violates the law for a private employer to demand or request a password is a harder question," she continued. "I think in most states right now it's not illegal."

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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