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Job Doc

Listing personal data on applications a risk

Q. Employers are asking for way too much information. I don’t want to provide my Social Security number and other personal information online. People lose laptops; hackers gain access to credit card information. I don’t think anything is confidential or secure. What else can I do and still be considered for the job?

A. Job seekers are often concerned about the personal information they disclose in ­applications, including ­addresses, phone numbers, and Social ­Security numbers. Given the increasing threat of data breaches and identity theft, ­applicants justifiably wonder what their privacy rights are and what prospective employers are doing to protect their personal information.

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I consulted Corey M. ­Dennis, a lawyer at Governo Law Firm LLC in Boston and an expert in data privacy and security laws. He explained that job seekers are not required to provide Social Security numbers or other personal information in employment applications, but refusing to do so may hurt their chances of getting an offer.

According to Dennis, Massachusetts has one of the toughest state data security laws in the country, requiring all businesses handling personal information of Massachusetts residents to maintain extensive safeguards, document those safeguards in a comprehensive written policy, and train employees on data security practices. Other states have enacted laws specifically intended to protect the privacy of Social ­Security numbers.

For example, in Connecticut businesses collecting Social ­Security numbers must create a privacy policy establishing safeguards for that information.

Data privacy practices vary from company to company, Dennis said, and not all businesses are in compliance with these laws. He added, “Data breaches do happen.” Just this month, Salem State University reported a data breach affecting 25,000 current and former ­employees and students.

Before providing Social ­Security numbers, job seekers should make sure they are ­applying to a reputable company through a secure website. Social Security numbers should not be submitted by e-mail. While many companies today maintain extensive measures to prevent data breaches, job seekers should take additional precautions to protect themselves from the risk of identity theft.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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