Colleges and Employers Want To Know Your Facebook Password

A recent post on Jezebel brings attention to a troubling trend – colleges and employers are increasingly demanding access to the private online accounts of applicants. While most professionals understand that their public data on social networks is more or less fair game (and that not posting anything potentially embarrassing where it might be found later is the best policy), this goes well beyond the level of scrutiny most of us have come to expect.

A few organizations have been willing to “compromise” on the issue. It’s not a breach of privacy if they don’t ask for your password and just force you to log in and let them watch you scroll through your news feed during a job interview, right? And it’s not weird to require student athletes to “friend” their coaches, who are allowed to monitor everything they read and write, even if it’s for friends only. Right?

Perhaps the most high-profile case was when the Maryland Department of Corrections began requiring access to the Facebook accounts of job applicants. This was ostensibly to avoid hiring prospects with gang ties – which is a noble goal, but is Facebook really the best way to obtain that information? The agency confirmed to the ACLU that it reviewed the social media accounts of more than 2,600 applicants, and only denied employment to 7 people because of their Facebook pages.

While submitting to this profile review is supposed to be voluntary, at least in Maryland, almost all applicants agree to the breach of privacy, worried they won’t be called back after the interview if they don’t.

Bradley Shear, a lawyer based in Washington DC, says in an interview with MSNBC that this is a violation of First Amendment Rights:

“I can’t believe some people think it’s OK to do this,” he said. “Maybe it’s OK if you live in a totalitarian regime, but we still have a Constitution to protect us. It’s not a far leap from reading people’s Facebook posts to reading their email. … As a society, where are we going to draw the line?”

He also points out that colleges might be taking on unnecessary liability if they closely monitor students’ online activities:

“What if the University of Virginia had been monitoring accounts in the Yeardley Love case and missed signals that something was going to happen?” he said, referring to a notorious campus murder. “What about the liability the school might have?”

This is still a legally murky area. It’s unclear what rights you really have if your school or employer demands your Facebook password. In time, we can probably expect the ACLU to start taking on more of these cases – and maybe even for state laws to be passed clarifying the issue. For now, the best solution might simply be to either stand your ground, understanding the potential consequences, or to delete your Facebook account altogether.


Related Stories:

How Facebook Will Profit Even More From Your Profile

A Farewell to Facebook?: 6 Million US Users Signed Off Last Month in the US

Something Else to Blame on Facebook & Wikipedia: Plagiarism

Photo credit: Birgerking


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

Employers can ask for anything, but we don't have to comply. I would never give out my passwords, e-mailaddresses (except a neutral one) or anything else that's personal just to get a job. There are other places to work than in such a hostile enviroment!

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe5 years ago

If they want access to my Facebook account, they will be sadly disappointed. I go to it about once a month or so, and the only things I put on it are pleas for friends to sign petitions or read about something I have seen on Care2 or other websites.

Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

Insane and infuriating!

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago

Big about privacy in this world????

G C5 years ago

Don't have one, but if I did I wouldn't give it. Ridiculous.

Hello G.
Hello G5 years ago

Most of us I think use FB 3-4 hrs daily and youngsters till late night, parents thinking they are doing homework... What would school or employer do with the A/c and Pswd???? Do they want to monitor their private life or what? Because Fb has become so popular among users and they are posting and commenting on every aspects even work .....

Susan O.
Susan O5 years ago

BTW, who are the 3% who think this is sort of or always OK, that your 4th amendment rights are violated? I'd like to see you step forward, identify yourselves, and state exactly WHY you think it is alright ...

Susan O.
Susan O5 years ago

United States Constitution:

Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Lee Witton
5 years ago

Your right to privacy is just that; a "RIGHT". Protect your privacy, protect your right to say no, elect Democrats (but weed out the corporatist Democrats) and get rid of all the radical and corporatist Republicans (which right now is all of them). We have to stop the continued assaults against the American middle class. We gone so far over the edge of propriety, invasion of privacy is greatly ignored as simply part of doing business. Try denying your medical provider the right to share information; you won't receive treatment. Trying becoming a member of any organization and wah lah; your information is shared with every like minded organization in the universe. We've become a country of "your business IS my business."

Mandy Harker
Mandy H5 years ago

That's terrible! What a horrible thing to do in a job interview, surely its a violation of freedom of speeh or the right to your privety.