Your Privacy Is At Stake!

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal (links below) started a firestorm of reactions across the country from both employers and job seekers, as well as from legal corners and privacy rights groups.  There is a growing trend by employers to demand that applicants provide their logins and security passwords to their Facebook and other social networking accounts in order to be considered for hiring.  Employers have been viewing applicants’ profile pages for a long time now. But demanding passwords and logins as a condition of hiring?  This is a serious violation of privacy and it needs to be stopped!
Congress is presently debating the legality of an employer’s right to see your private information, so keeping your online act clean has taken on a whole new level of importance.  If your online profiles and social networking content is clean and presents you as a law-abiding citizen, you’ve got nothing to worry about.  Maybe!  If you want to make your personal information available to a prospective employer, that is your choice to do so, but providing (or not) your online information should not be a condition of employment
Let me be perfectly clear here:  I believe in a citizen’s right to privacy!  I do not believe that an employer (or anyone else for that matter) has any more right to demand you allow them to view your personal online content any more than they have the right to view a hand-written personal journal.
I understand that employers think that by accessing your personal information they will get a better understanding of your character and behavior, and how that might reflect on how you will behave on the job!   But I have been encouraging job seekers to clean up their online presence for long time, so this isn’t new ground here!
But – and this is very important – by current federal employment law there are a lot of things that employers are not allowed to ask applicants.  Topics such as religion, age, marital status, family makeup, sexual orientation, disability and many other subjects may not be brought up by employers so that these factors will not be part of the hiring decision.  Yet in many an online presence those exact same details are revealed.  Birthdays, religious or political affiliations, social memberships, personal interests and other characteristics that employers are not legally permitted to ask about are often part of those online profiles. Giving employers access to this information contradicts the same laws that were meant to protect job seeker’s privacy.
Again, if there aren’t pictures of you doing something questionable, employers might still see something in your photos or posts that they don’t agree with or don’t approve.  From perusing your social networking pages employers can draw potentially erroneous conclusions about you, your personality, writing style, outside interests, behaviors, friends, and other criteria that could negatively influence their hiring decisions.  And it should not!  Employers should NOT be allowed to demand access to these personal spaces!
No matter how you feel about turning over your passwords and logins to employers I still encourage job seekers and professionals to keep their online profiles clean.  Of course if you know how to hide the less-than-flattering content, you’ll feel safer about strangers viewing your pages.
You have a couple of options if an employer asks for your passwords:

Don’t give employers passwords or logins, but do offer to log in and let them look around in your presence. If they see something they want to question, you are there to offer explanation or clarification.

Excuse yourself from consideration from working at a company that wants to violate your right to privacy.  Don’t allow them access to your accounts in any way, and keep looking for another job.

Grin and bear it.  Allow employers access to your personal information without restriction.  However, no matter how much you want this job, do you really want to encourage this kind of behavior and loss of freedom?

And while mine is not a legal opinion, I do believe that employers demanding access to such private information is in direct violation of the employment laws as protected by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).  Let your elected representatives know how you feel about this issue, and quickly, before more of your rights to privacy are eroded.  Your privacy is at stake!
To contact your elected representatives, use the tools on these sites:  Contact Elected Officials  Find Your Elected Officials
If you’d like to follow this story more closely, check out these links.
WSJ-Can Job Applicants Be Asked For Facebook Passwords?
Huffington Post – Facebook Protection Amendment Voted Down In House
Facebook – Protecting Your Passwords And Your Privacy
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