Senators Call for Probe Into Coercion of Facebook Logins
Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are calling for a federal investigation into new hiring practices that include demands for job seekers to provide the login credentials for their personal Facebook and e-mail accounts.
According to a swath of recent reports, certain employers in New York City, Seattle, Washington and elsewhere across the nation have begun demanding that job applicants turn over their Facebook and e-mail user names and passwords. At a time when more than 8 percent of American adults do not have jobs, Blumenthal and Schumer said, such requests amount to a form of coercion "that could set a dangerous precedent."
In letters sent Monday to the heads of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice, the two senators sought to clarify whether such practices are illegal under federal law.
"In an age where more and more of our personal information -- and our private social interactions -- are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public," Schumer said in a statement released Monday. "This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence."
According to Blumenthal, a ban on such hiring practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy. "With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants' private, password-protected information," he said.
"An investigation by the Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will help remedy ongoing intrusions and coercive practices, while we draft new statutory protections to clarify and strengthen the law," Blumenthal said.
Comprehensive background checks may be appropriate for those individuals seeking employment in law enforcement or applying for an open job position at a highly sensitive infrastructure site, Blumenthal and Schumer said. In the vast majority of cases, however, demanding the personal login credentials of job seekers could potentially enable employers to unlawfully discriminate against otherwise qualified applicants.
"This allows employers to access private information -- including personal communications, religious views, national origin, family history, gender, marital status and age," Blumenthal and Schumer wrote in a letter to the EEOC. "If employers asked for some of this information directly, it would violate federal anti-discrimination law."
Opening a Can of Worms
Facebook users -- including companies with a brand-name presence at the social networking site -- are prohibited from releasing or asking for personal login credentials, said Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan.
"We've made it a violation of Facebook's statement of rights and responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password," Egan wrote in a blog post Friday.
Reported incidences of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their Facebook passwords are alarming, Egan said. "It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability," she said.
Employers discovering information on Facebook that identifies any job applicant as a member of a protected group could lead to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that individual, Egan warned.
"Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information," she said. "The employer may assume liability for the protection of the information they have seen or for knowing what responsibilities may arise based on different types of information -- for example, if the information suggests the commission of a crime."
Posted: 2012-09-15 @ 5:16pm PT
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