Can Your Employer Demand Access to Your Facebook Account?

Did you know that in 44 U.S. states, an employer can require you to hand over your social media password before they hire you?

Did you know that in 44 U.S. states, an employer can require you to hand over your social media password before they hire you?  If something about this doesn’t seem quite right, you’re on the side of six states that have passed their own versions of the Password Protection Act of 2012 after Congress failed to enact it on a national level.  Don’t panic—the New Jersey State Senate unanimously passed such a law this fall, but the vast majority of Americans are still subject to probes by employers into their social media accounts.

Under regular circumstances, private information from an applicant’s personal life would not be an appropriate subject of conversation during the hiring process, but some employers argue that access to a potential employee’s social media accounts would protect trade information that may be revealed during the interview process.  The result is an HR conundrum that many view as an invasion of privacy.

Is it reasonable to ask for carte blanche access to an individual’s most personal details as a precaution to a disproportionately uncommon problem? Should people have to choose between their privacy and earning a living?  Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, thinks not. In March of 2012, she issued a statement warning employers from continuing this act:

This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability.

If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account, or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends. We have worked really hard at Facebook to give you the tools to control who sees your information.

One such prominent case was set at a Michigan School in April 2011, when a teacher’s aide was suspended for refusing to grant her Director administrative access to her Facebook account following a questionable photo.

On January 1, 2013 California and Illinois became the most recent states to pass the social media password protection laws, joining New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Michigan (Michigan passed the law on December 28, 2012).

As the use of social media and other technologies continues to accelerate, 2013 will surely be an interesting year for Internet, privacy and intellectual property law, and we’ll continue to keep our finger on the pulse of these developments.

Over to you: Are you surprised to learn how few states have passed password protection laws? Do you think employers have a point about protecting trade information, or is this just a blatant violation of privacy? Let us know in the comments!

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John Hayes January 13, 2013 at 01:08 PM
Rebecca, that's a bit of a red herring. If someone valued their privacy, they wouldn't be posting vacation pictures on Facebook, now would they? And obviously, people who post questionable pictures in publicly available social media sites have no one to blame but themselves for the consequences. This issue is not "vastly important". It's a minor issue with only anecdotal evidence of anyone being asked for their password (it should come as no surprise that it's government officials asking for the passwords). And the state legislation is only so much political pandering.
John Hayes January 13, 2013 at 01:10 PM
Funny that the anecdotal evidence cited involves government officials requesting access to user's facebook information.
Michelle Wolfson January 16, 2013 at 03:51 AM
This is why I work for myself! I almost never ask myself for my password. :)
Gabe Fletcher January 16, 2013 at 04:24 AM
I like it.
Darryl Pea April 08, 2013 at 05:58 PM
I have mixed emotions about this, on the one hand I do think it is a violation of privacy but on the other why would you post questionable behavior ( pictures, etc ) on a social media. No matter what the circumstances you must always consider the consequences. You should always think of yourself as an investment and make sound decisions on thinks that can determine the outcome of your life.


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