Hand over your password? Er…no.

Every week I get an e-mail from LinkedIn with the top five articles of the week. Usually these are along the lines of “what makes a remarkable boss,” “how to be a great employee,” “what interview mistake are you making?” etc. But this week there was a link to an article called “Job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords,” and yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.

If you, like any smart person, have your Facebook or other social media site settings set to “private” so that only the people you want to see your profile and other information can see it, it turns out you may be asked in an interview to hand over your login and password. To me, this is an outrageous violation of privacy and an unreasonable request – it is simply over the line. (More reasonable requests that potential employers might make include asking you to “friend” someone in Human Resources. Or, if you have your profile set to “public,” you can safely assume they’ve looked at it before they called you in for the interview.)

What legal recourse do you have to say no? Is this like the Fourth Amendment where they have to establish probable cause? On the other hand, if you refuse, that job opportunity might be lost to you, and in this economy, who can afford that? Well, giving anyone else your login information is a violation of the Facebook terms of service, but right now that’s the only obstacle in these invasive employers’ way. The ACLU has protested the practice, and some states – Maryland and Illinois – are working on legislation to forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks, but private companies could continue it.

This touches on a larger issue. I was horrified to read about this practice, and even in an interview situation where I really wanted or needed the job, I think I would say no if asked for my password to Facebook (let alone e-mail!). It’s not that I have anything to hide, but rather the principle of personal privacy that’s at stake.

The whole idea of privacy may be eroding; it seems to be less important to “Millennials”  (just Google “Millennials + privacy” – some articles about how savvy they are at protecting it, others about how their views on it are simply different from traditional views of personal privacy). From personal observation, it seems that teenagers and those in their early 20s are less protective of their personal information – and with so much of it available online, it might seem like a hopeless effort to keep any information private.

However, for a potential employer to ask you for personal information that you have deemed private seems beyond the pale. (It may also allow them to find answers to questions they are not legally allowed to ask in interviews, such as your age, marital status, or religion.) They already have your resume, your cover letter, your application, as well as whatever they have gleaned from what is publicly available online; they can contact your references and ask you questions in an interview; they can even give you a drug test (with your consent). Is it really necessary to hand over your passwords as well? I think not.

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