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Using Facebook to check job applicants 'illegal'

It's political correctness gone mad. These days, we're told, it's wrong to employ someone because they're wearing the right tie or the wrong (but so right) skirt. And now it transpires that online investigations into job candidates 'could be illegal'.

According to John Carr, chairman of the (deep breath) UK Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety, employers infringe privacy when they dig up information about job applicants from social-networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace or Bebo.

Well, Mr Carr, I can only assume that you don't have to interview people. Because it's dull. Very dull indeed. And throwing in a question such as: 'So, you enjoy licking flaming sambuca off swans' necks, I see?' can raise the pulse somewhat.

('What would you say is your greatest weakness?' 'I'm a perfectionist'. 'Really? I'd have thought your habit of waking naked in donkey sanctuaries is a more obvious area for improvement. When can you start?')

Britain's data-protection laws prevent private information being used without its subject's knowledge or control. As such, it seems to me that accessing publicly available information over the internet can't be a breach of law. Unless someone forces the applicant to put information online.

Or, to put it another way, if you don't want your future employer to see you in a compromising situation, make sure those pictures of 'Unisex Photocopier Derby 2007' remain on your hard drive.

"There are lots of rumours about young job applicants being screened on Google or even university tutors looking at people applying for further education," says Captain Killjoy Carr.

"It could be illegal - when the kids are posting a picture of a party, they are only doing it to let their mates look. They are not doing it for an application form."

Well, er, perhaps. But 'could be illegal' cuts no ice with the watchdog charged with protecting your data.

As spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office (for it is she) told the Guardian that: "Essentially if an individual - a potential employer or university tutor - looked at someone else's profile on a social networking site, it would not be a breach of data protection."

So there you have it. It's up to you to keep your dangerous data to yourself. It shouldn't be too difficult, just do nothing. I do it all the time.

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