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Facebook: Be careful what you ask for

Facebook/ istockphoto/ globe staff

Many Americans let their personal lives play out on Facebook. So it’s a serious invasion of privacy, not to mention a bit creepy, that an increasing number of employers are demanding that employees or job applicants fork over their passwords. Some companies and even public agencies claim they need access to accounts to get a full picture of a job candidate, or ensure that employees aren’t disparaging their bosses online. But these employers have gone overboard - and are inviting legal trouble to boot.

As the backlash against the pratice grows, state legislatures in Illinois and Maryland are considering laws targeting employers that demand passwords. US Senators Charles Schumer and Richard Blumenthal are asking the Justice Department to assess whether the practice is legal. Facebook itself issued a statement last week reminding employers that entering someone else’s Facebook account is a violation of the site’s terms of service.

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Beyond all that, it isn’t in an employer’s interest to snoop so much, either. Logging into a Facebook account often reveals the a job applicant’s age, religion, and sexual orientation - and opens an employer up to claims of discrimination if the person isn’t hired.

Online privacy standards may still be evolving, but staying out of a worker’s social networking account ought to be a no-brainer. No employer would imagine that it’s appropriate to demand workers provide a list of books they’ve read, political causes they support, or people they’ve dated. Yet that’s the kind of information a Facebook password can reveal. Employers might be curious, but it’s better not to know.

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