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Senators seek probe of employers seeking Facebook info

Move heats up debate over employers asking job seekers for passwords used for social networks like Facebook, Google+

Two U.S. senators are calling for a federal investigation into the growing trend of employers seeking access to the social network pages of job applicants.

Senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles E. Schumer posted an open letter on Monday, asking the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to weigh in on the growing debate on personal privacy and the use of social networks to learn about job seekers.

It's been reported in recent weeks that an increasing number of employers are asking job applicants to hand over their social network user names and passwords to peruse personal information posted on sites like Facebook and Google+ .

"Employers have no right to ask job applicants for their house keys or to read their diaries," Schumer said in a statement. "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?"

He added that as an ever increasing amount of personal information and social interactions are stored online, it's critical to make sure personal information is kept private.

"This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence," said Schumer.

"Before this disturbing practice becomes widespread, we must have an immediate investigation into whether the practice violates federal law. I'm confident the investigation will show it does. Facebook agrees, and I'm sure most Americans agree, that employers have no business asking for your Facebook password," he added.

Late last week, Facebook warned employers of potential legal problems with seeking access to the Facebook accounts of workers.

"If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends," wrote Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer in a blog post late last week. "As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job."

Egan also noted that it's now a violation of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

Facebook is prepared to take legal action in these kinds of cases, Egan added.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also weighed in on the issue last week, saying employers asking employees or potential employees for access to their social networking accounts are out of line.

"People are entitled to their private lives," wrote ACLU attorney Catherine Crump in a blog post.

"You'd be appalled if your employer insisted on opening up your postal mail to see if there was anything of interest inside. It's equally out of bounds for an employer to go on a fishing expedition through a person's private social media account," she added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.


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