Companies and government agencies are asking for the information in order to log in and look around the applicant’s Facebook page, since many users have their profiles set to private, requiring a username and password to view.
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, the AP report noted.
The practice is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers, the newswire explained.
"It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys", Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, told the AP. He called the practice "an egregious privacy violation."
As an example, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a correctional officer at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother’s death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his Facebook login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations.
Collins complied. "I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he told AP.
After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log into Facebook during interviews.
"To me, that’s still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy," said Collins, whose case led to the Maryland legislation.