Would You Ask an Employee for His Facebook Password? (Some Bosses Do!)

Would you ever ask a potential hire to log on to their Facebook during an interview?
Business Writers
March 22, 2012

It's not a surprise that bosses are checking out potential employees on Facebook. But now some are asking that the job hopefuls hand over their passwords.

According to the Associated Press, employers aren't content just to peruse the world's largest social network for photos of unprofessional behavior or check wall postings for a read on exactly how much of a loose cannon a candidate is. Law enforcement agencies, in particular, are the ones most likely to ask for the passwords–a practice that may not even be, ahem, legal–but companies are doing it, too, using the login to check for evidence of inappropriate relationships with minors or possible gang membership. How widespread is the practice? Well, states such as Illinois and Maryland even are considering legislation against it.

Handing out Facebook login details is a violation of the social network's terms of service–it's technically a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms. But the Department of Justice has said that violations won't be prosecuted.

Justin Bassett, a New York City statistician, applied for a job at a lobbying firm. When his interviewer couldn't see his Facebook profile–he had made it private–she asked him for the password, according to the AP.

Bassett refused, but other candidates can't afford to say no. Robert Collins was asked for his log-in and password in 2010, during a reinstatement interview for a job as a correctional officer at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. (He'd taken a leave of absence following his mother's death.) He coughed them up.

"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he told the AP.

Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, calls the practice "akin to requiring someone's house keys."

It is, he added, "an egregious privacy violation."

Other companies and agencies are stopping just short of asking for passwords but asking applicants to friend human resource managers–meaning the company would have access to the whole profile.

The sheriff's department in Spotsylvania County, Va., asks applicants to friend background investigators.

"In the past, we've talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social-media sites than they do with real friends," Capt. Mike Harvey told the AP. "Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them."

Have you ever asked a candidate for his or her Facebook password? Would you? What do you look for when checking out candidates on social media?

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