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Senators call for investigation into reports that employers are demanding Facebook and email passwords as precondition for interviews

In letters to the DOJ and the EEOC, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) have called for a federal investigation into “a new disturbing trend” that has seen employers require job applicants supply their user names and passwords for social networking and email websites. Access to those passwords would give employers access to personal information including private photos, email messages, and biographical data that the senators note is “otherwise deemed private.”

The demand stems from reports indicating that employers across the country have insisted that applicants supply the credentials as part of the interview process. The senators say that this trend could expose employers to discrimination claims and could make it more difficult for applicants to get jobs.

Blumenthal said he was “alarmed and outraged” by the reports and said that a ban on the practice is necessary “to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy.” The federal investigation, said Blumenthal, would remedy ongoing issues and would buy legislators time to craft statutory protections.

Facebook last week warned employers against the practice, saying that it is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to solicit a Facebook password. On its March 23, 2012, blog, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, says that the practice “undermines the privacy expectation and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.” The social media giant seconded the senators warning that the practice could expose employers to lawsuits.

“We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” wrote Egan. “But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. Employers also may not have the proper policies and training for reviewers to handle private information. If they don’t — and actually, even if they do — 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 (e.g., if the information suggests the commission of a crime).”