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Employers, colleges demand Facebook passwords


State agencies, colleges demand applicants' Facebook passwords

By Bob Sullivan

If you think privacy settings on your Facebook and Twitter accounts guarantee future employers or schools can't see your private posts, guess again.

Employers and colleges find the treasure-trove of personal information hiding behind password-protected accounts and privacy walls just too tempting, and increasingly, they are demanding full access from applicants and students.

In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state's Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall.

Previously, applicants were asked to surrender their user name and password, but a complaint from the ACLU stopped that practice last year. While submitting to a Facebook review is voluntary, virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview, according Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann.



Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to "friend" a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their "friends-only" posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a "reputation scoreboard" to coaches and send "threat level" warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.

A recent revision in the handbook at the University of North Carolina is typical:

"Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members' social networking sites and postings," it reads. "The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes' posts."

All this scrutiny is too much for Bradley Shear, a Washington D.C.-lawyer who says both schools and employers are violating the First Amendment with demands for access to otherwise private social media content.

"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?"

Aside from the free speech concerns, Shear also thinks colleges take on unnecessary liability when they aggressively monitor student posts.

"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?"

Shear has gotten the attention of Maryland state legislators, who have proposed two separate bills aimed at banning social media access by schools and potential employers. The ACLU is aggressively supporting the bills.

"This is an invasion of privacy. People have so much personal information on their pages now. A person can treat it almost like a diary," said Goemann, the Maryland ACLU legislative director. "And (interviewers and schools) are also invading other people's privacy. They get access to that individual's posts and all their friends. There is a lot of private information there."

Maryland's Department of Corrections policy first came to light last year, when corrections officer Robert Collins complained to the ACLU that he was forced to surrender his Facebook user name and password during an interview. The state agency suspended the policy for 45 days, and eventually settled on the "shoulder-surfing" substitute.

"My fellow officers and I should not have to allow the government to view our personal Facebook posts and those of our friends just to keep our jobs," Collins said to the ACLU at the time.

Agency spokesman Rick Binetti confirmed the new policy, but wouldn't comment on it or the proposed law which may ban it.

It's easy to see why an agency that hires prison guards would want to sneak a peek at potential employees' private online lives. Goemann said that prisons are trying to avoid hiring guards with potential gang ties -- the agency told the ACLU it had reviewed 2,689 applicants via social media, and denied employment to seven because of items found on their pages.

"All seven of these individuals' social media applications contained pictures of them showing verified gang signs (signs commonly known to law enforcement which are utilized by gangs)," the Department of Corrections told the ACLU in response to questions it asked about the program. It stressed the voluntary nature of social media inspection, noting that five of the 80 employees hired in the last three hiring cycles didn't provide access.

For student athletes, though, the access isn't voluntary. No access, no sports.

"They're saying to students if you want to play, you have to friend a coach. That's very troubling," said Shear, the D.C. lawyer. "A good analogy for this, in the offline world, would it be acceptable for schools to require athletes to bug their off-campus apartments? Does a school have a right to know who all your friends are?"


There have been many high-profile embarrassing moments born of the toxic combination of student-athletes and Twitter. North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin tweeted about expensive purchases on his account two years ago, then became subject of an NCAA investigation about improper conduct with a player agent. The incident led, in part, to the school's aforementioned aggressive social media policy.

So it's not surprising that many schools want to keep a careful eye on what students are posting online.

But avoiding an uncomfortable moment is not a good enough reason to squash free speech, Spear says. Plenty of settled case law in the U.S. sides with students' rights to express themselves publicly, he said, including numerous cases involving student newspapers. Public displays of protest are also protected: A landmark 1969 Supreme Court decisions known as Tinker vs. the Des Moines School District said school officials couldn't prevent students from wearing armbands protesting the Vietnam War as long as they weren't inciting violence.

Colleges have legitimate concerns about the things students post on social media accounts, but they should "deal with that issue the way they deal with everything else. They should educate," Shear said.

"Schools are in the business of educating, not spying," he added. "We don't hire private investigators to follow students wherever they go. If students say stupid things online, they should educate them ... not engage in prior restraint."

Goemann also noted that the rush to social media monitoring raises an often overlooked legal concern: It's against Facebook's Terms of Service.

"You will not share your password ... let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account," the site says in its policies.

Frederic Wolens, a Facebook spokesman, wouldn't comment on the Maryland legislative proposals, but he said many of these school and employer policies appear to violate the site's terms.

"Under our terms, only the holder of the email address and password is considered the Facebook account owner. We also prohibit anyone from soliciting the login information or accessing an account belonging to someone else," he said in a statement to Wolens said Facebook has yet to take a position on collegiate social media monitoring.

Social media monitoring on colleges, while spreading quickly among athletic departments, seems to be limited to athletes at the moment. There's nothing stopping schools from applying the same policies to other students, however. And Shear says he's heard from college applicants that interviewers have requested Facebook or Twitter login information during in-person screenings.

The practice seems less common among employers, but scattered incidents are gaining attention from state lawmakers. The blog last year showed what it said was an image of an application for a clerical job with a North Carolina police department that included the following question:

"Do you have any web page accounts such as Facebook, Myspace, etc.? If so, list your username and password."

And the state of Illinois has followed Maryland's lead and is considering similar legislation to ban social media password demands by employers.

But Shear says a patchwork of state laws isn't good enough when the stakes are this high.

"We need a federal law dealing with this," he said. "After 9/11, we have a culture where some people think it's OK for the government to be this involved in our lives, that it's OK to turn everything over to the government. But it's not. We still have privacy rights in this country, and we still have a Constitution."

by on Mar. 6, 2012 at 8:12 AM
Replies (241-250):
by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 2:05 AM
1 mom liked this

The minute I was asked to provide my user name & Password, would be the very minute I stood and said "If this company holds such little faith & trust in it's employees then I can't work here." And I'd leave, just like that. You know, at first it was just little things here & there where the government was usurping our rights and freedoms and unless you were really thinking and/or paying attention, they weren't noticeable to most citizens. Besides we were kept busy just trying to take care of our families, but look at it now, so many things we used to take for granted are not longer allowed and if they are allowed there are a bunch of conditions attached. Just remember, every time a law is passed, a little more of our rights are taken away. 

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 3:20 AM

Many companies such as the one I work for (which of course I can't name) scour these sites and watch what your doing, if you have any complaints against the company some will actually threaten you with legal action if you have anything bad to say about the company even if it's the truth. 

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 3:31 AM

You sign a statement on nearly every application stating that you have been honest in your application &/or associated interviews.  If they find out that you have lied, then you can...and usually fired.

Quoting randi1978:

I don't see how.  They can't fire you telling them you don't have one when you really do.

Quoting moneysaver6:

If you falsify an application or lie in an interview, then you could later lose your job.

Quoting Mommyzlovez:

 Thats why you put it under and assumed name and do not tell them about it, I knwo many that do this BECAUSE of this reason...if its not under your real name and therefore cant reflect poorly on them (some people really do go too far pn FB) then they do not really need to know or have access to this.

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 3:41 AM


Quoting Mommyzlovez:

 Thats why you put it under and assumed name and do not tell them about it, I knwo many that do this BECAUSE of this reason...if its not under your real name and therefore cant reflect poorly on them (some people really do go too far pn FB) then they do not really need to know or have access to this.

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 4:16 AM
1 mom liked this
Weren't we always told work stayed at work and home stayed home when did people get so controlling live and let live. Geezus this is ridiculous and if we hand over our information we are in violation of fb terms of services soo thats not fair we either don't get a job which are rare nowadays or we violate our terms of service... Its bs glad they are stopping it before it got to crazy
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
by Member on Mar. 9, 2012 at 4:23 AM
1 mom liked this
OH EM GEE!!! Do you honestly believe this?!?

Quoting anjegirl:

When the government signed onto AGENDA 21 Mark Zuckerburg signed an agreement with the CIA to track all AMerican citizens on FACEBOOK and they are gathering this info for the sole purpose of determining who to send to FEMA concentration camps on DEC 21,2012 and who of the sheeple can stay--the agreement signed by 178 countries in 1992 by both Clinton and Bush Jr. agrees to the depopulation of the earth from 6.6 billion ppl to 500 million ppl by the end of 2013 and Americans will be killed and herded into camps first of all the nations and facebook and wal-mart are in on it---there are ads all over the internet telling ppl to pull down their facebook pages----

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 5:59 AM

I hope they don't ask for mine, I can't remember it. My computer ever resets itself, I'm so screwed. LOL

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 6:56 AM

I'd never give them mine. I'd rather change my pic. and use a nickname and some other stuff so they'd never find it.

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 6:56 AM

That is a bit much. I still wouldnt have anything to hide but that would be going too far.

Quoting kitty8199:

They were making applicants sit at a computer and show the interviewer everything on their fb. It wasn't the employer checking it. Part of the interview was to show them your profile. That is why its an invasion. They wanted to see everything even stuff not visable on your profle to anyone.


If that is the case, its great. I didnt say that I think it is right for them to use that information in deciding your potential employment. I totally agree. I only argue that unless you can prove it ,  anything on the web has to possibility of becoming public without safeguards that the site holders need to put into place. Facebook should do that. Maybe it will be a step in the right direction. It has not been the case up to now. 

Quoting kitty8199:

Well they alreay talked about this on the news today. The congress for the state this was talking about said it wasn't legal and they aren't allowed to do this, so yeah it is a violation. Fb has nothing to do with the job and using personal views for employment is illegal. Sorry you disagree but lawmakers said this one is a violation of rights.


I dont think a potential employer asking for that is forcing you to do so. If you choose not to and they choose someone who did, how would you even know that is the case. However, whether or not you give someone your information is a choice not a violation. If they choose not to give a potential employee the job because they refused to give the potential employer their Facebook information, its their choice not a violation of your rights. Even if they are asking for this information it isnt denying you your right to privacy. Your rights to privacy ended when you put your private comments on a public forum. A potential employer can get useful information from your page, especially in your projected image of the person you claim to be. I dont think its right but I dont think its illegal. Potential employers can call references too. You cant guarantee what your references will say. However, if you are denied a position because you refuse to offer references that can establish your creditability, that too would be an invasion of privacy then. Every potential employer I have ever met has asked for work references and personal or charactor references. In that instance you are not even offering them your private information but someone else's entirely. You are allowing potential employers to invade someone else's privacy in that instance. However, you cant scream an invasion of privacy or a violation of your amendment rights when you are ultimately putting your information in a forum that could be seen by the public at large. If you choose to put things on your page, private or not, you do so knowing that possibility. You have essentially given them the ok to check it. 

I really dont care what anyone posts on the internet. I also dont think its right that a potential employer can use your refusal to relinquish password information for Facebook or anywhere else as a means to disqualify you. However, your right to privacy only applies to information you have put into a public forum, albeit one you believe to be set to a privacy setting, You still have the right to deny them the information. You have the right to free speech. Neither a potential employer requesting your information nor using it to disqualify you is an invasion of privacy because you have the right to deny them the information. Just as you have the right to say no, they have the right to say no too!

Believe and think what you want. However, word to the wise. There is a reason its called a social networking site and you shouldnt put anything on your page that you wouldnt want a potential employer to see. I would have no problem with a potential employer seeing my face book information because I know that there is always a potential mishap that will allow my information to be open to public review. If you dont think that should be the case, thats ok. Believe what you want!

Quoting kitty8199:

The TOS isn't saying people have the right to force you to show them. It means something even private may get out. 2 different things. No one has the right to force you to show private info. And hacking someones email is the same felony mail tampering as regular mail. Doing something under duress is still a crime.


Read the terms of service. You will find it says otherwise. You dont have to take my word for it. Look it up. Read it. Your privacy settings do not guarantee your privacy and it says that in black and white. I encourage anyone who thinks I am wrong to read it. Believe what you want but read it and you will UNDERSTAND your rights are few and unprotected on the site. 

It is only private if you own the domain. You dont so it isnt. 

Quoting kitty8199:

Not if you make it private. My page is private bc I don't want people seeing my stuff unless I give them permission (like they have to be my friend and even some posts are to certain friends only)


When you elective place information on their site, you lose the right to privacy. Facebook doesnt but you do. It could only be a violation of your privacy if you owned the site. Once you agree to put your information on another person's site you just gave up your right to privacy.

Quoting kitty8199:

Total invasion of privacy. If your profile is public it isn't an invasion. If its private, its private

by on Mar. 9, 2012 at 7:22 AM

If they are required to 'friend' someone at the school, they can always block certain posts from being seen by certain friends.  Now granted they are not too drunk to be able to remember to do that when they post rowdy pictures or comments! lol!!

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