The legality of a prospective employer asking for your Facebook login information

I’ve seen several stories about this: more employers are asking prospective employees to provide their Facebook login information (or login in front of them) so that they can look over your profile. While this is sure to anger some people, how legal is it?

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks…

Companies that don’t ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media…

Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network’s terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

So when will we get our first court case that tackles this issue?

I assume these companies have weighed the negative consequences of following these practices. Perhaps the logic goes something like this: if people have nothing to hide online, then there should be no problem having employers see their information. But I can’t imagine this will lead to good publicity for many corporations. Privacy is a big concern to many people and corporations are often seen as the bad guys in the larger battle.

Additionally, don’t employers have other ways to find out information that doesn’t require asking for login information? Perhaps they wouldn’t be able to get at Facebook information but that is not the only way to find out about people. What about asking for more references instead, professional and perhaps personal, and calling those references and asking thorough questions?

I’m also struck by the idea that some employers seem to be very afraid of Facebook and social media. Yes, it can backfire on their corporation or organization. But employees are capable of doing all sorts of dumb things and this is not restricted to Facebook posts.

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