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Senators Want DOJ To Investigate Employers Asking Interviewees For Facebook Passwords

Senator Chuck Schumer and his Connecticut counterpart are calling on the U.S. Department Of Justice to determine if potential employers requesting Facebook passwords during interviews violates federal statutes.

Schumer and Sen. Richard Bluementhal are calling for a joint probe with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and are sending letters to the agencies' heads. The problem began to gain traction after a report last week by the Associated Press made public the growing practice by several private and public agencies around the country of asking interviewees for their private social media information.

This has raised huge red flags with privacy advocates, who've spent the last decade -- or so, particularly after 9/11 -- worrying about what, they view, as the steady erosion of citizens' privacy when it comes to things like the Patriot Act etc.

Facebook put out a warning to employers Friday not to request job applicants' passwords so they can snoop through their profiles. The cease and desist warning also came with a threat of legal action against applications that violate the bedrock policy of not sharing passwords. A company executive pointed out that, if an employer finds out an applicant is part of a protected group, said employer could risk being sued for discrimination -- especially if that person is not hired.

Facebook profiles contain personal data like gender, race, religion, age -- details that are all protected by federal employment law. The social media giant also pointed out that keeping passwords private is a basic tenet of online etiquette, emphasizing that not doing so would be a security risk.

"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," a company statement said. "While we do not have any immediate plans to take legal action against any specific employers, we look forward to engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders, to help better safeguard the privacy of our users," Facebook officials emphasized.

Sen. Schumer's office also released the following statement today: "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 and protect personal information from their would-be employers. This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence," the statement read.

Schumer and Bluementhal want to find out if a couple of court cases surrounding supervisors asking for social media information from current employees could be applicable to job applicants. And according to the AP, they want to determine, specifically, if the practice violates the Stored Communications Act or the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act. Those two acts, respectively, prohibit intentional access to electronic information, without authorization and intentional access to a compute without authorization to obtain information.

Both senators say they're drafting a bill to fill in the gaps not covered by current legislation.

During a past interview with the Associated Press, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Catherine Crump had this to say, "I think it's going to take some years for courts to decide whether Americans in the digital age have the same privacy rights" as previous generations, she pointed out.

Reporting By Associated Press

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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