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During the application process, employers ask for copious bits of information: your name, your address, your phone number, even your social security number. But how willing are potential employees to provide their login information to a social media site such as Facebook?
Earlier this year, there was a case of a man in Maryland who was asked for his Facebook username and password. Robert Collins had worked as a corrections supply officer at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for nearly three years before taking a voluntary personal leave. Several months later, he was hoping to return to work. As his position had been filled, Collins searched for another position in the same field of work. In order to earn a position available at a Maryland correctional facility, he would have to go through recertification, which is a standard policy.
The process of recertification required fingerprinting, an updated background check, and an interview. During the interview, however, Collins was questioned on his use of social media and, more specifically, if he had a Facebook account. He was then told to supply his Facebook login information. Collins, whose privacy settings on Facebook are designed to only allow his friends to see any postings, had reservations about the request and was informed that its purpose was to safeguard the department against employees involved in illegal activity or having any affiliation with gangs.
More recently were stories of police departments in North Carolina and Norman, OK. On the North Carolina police department’s application form for a clerical position, just below the question of whether or not a prospective employee’s driver’s license has ever been suspended or revoked, is this request for information: “Do you have any web page accounts such as Facebook, Myspace [sic] etc…? If so, list your username and password.” Applicants at the Norman, OK, police department likewise are asked for their Facebook passwords. An officer explains that, “You’re investing these individuals that you hire with the legal authority to arrest people and to, in a worst case scenario, take someone’s life.”
In a letter from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) sent to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on Collins’ behalf, the ACLU argued, “Courts that have been required to address the issue have ruled that wall postings and email on Facebook and other social media sites are protected communications under the SCA [Stored Communications Act], making efforts to access them without proper authorization illegal… Here, there can be little question but that force ‘authorization,’ such as that demanded of Mr. Collins, is not proper authorization under the SCA, given the disparate bargaining power of the employer and the employee or applicant.” The SCA is part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which protects such forms of communication.
Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard suspended, at least temporarily, the Maryland department’s practice of requesting Facebook login information. In a reply to the ACLU, he reiterated the reasons for the request but was “compelled to investigate further.”
HR Career Resources is a weekly column authored by HRCrossing, the nation's leading human resources jobsite dedicated to getting HR professionals jobs.
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