Officials oppose employers who require Facebook passwords

Job applicants can typically expect routine questions in job interviews: what is your experience in this field? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? But some applicants have recently been faced with a different question: what’s your password?

Applicants or employees who have been reprimanded for not disclosing their Facebook passwords have recently come forward and sparked a response from Facebook.

In a March 23 press release, Facebook declared the sharing or soliciting of a password a violation of its statement of rights and responsibilities.

“We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges,” according to the press release.

Some organizations have begun asking applicants for their passwords in an effort to keep tabs on employees and monitor their online activity.

Facebook passwords are similar to email passwords and bank account numbers, said Jeremy Britten, UNA’s web communications manager.

“I’m definitely against giving out your password because Facebook is private,” he said. “Your group of friends is a private network. Some posts are available without passwords.”

Britten said employers shouldn’t have access to everything in employees’ private lives.

“Your employer doesn’t need to see all that,” he said. “Everybody vents about their jobs. Facebook allows them to do that. It’s not anybody’s right to have that password.”

Giving out Facebook passwords doesn’t just violate the privacy of the account owner, it violates the privacy of that user’s friends, said Jennifer Smith, UNA’s career development coordinator.

“I think it’s an invasion of privacy,” she said. “For example, I don’t have anything to hide, but I might have friends who messaged me confidential or private information.”

But demanding Facebook passwords could go beyond being an invasion of privacy, Britten said.

“I could even see that as a violation of free speech rights,” he said. “Your employer could potentially dictate what you say. I don’t condone dissing your employer or posting unprofessional pictures. It’s about sharing the right things with the right people.”

Smith said she understands the motivation behind the employers who ask for social media passwords, but they can go too far.

“Part of me understands what they’re doing,” she said. “They want to see their employees’ behavior, but when they want to read private messages, that’s crossing the line.”

Britten said he blames some of the confusion as to boundaries in social media and the workplace on the newness of social media itself.

“It’s such a new thing that there’s no standard for it yet,” he said. “It’s all developing now. A Facebook photo album is really just like a regular photo album.”

If employers were officially allowed to require employee disclosure of social media passwords and organizations like Facebook were not threatening to fight back, it could lead to a slippery slope, Britten said.

“If legislation were to pass that gave employers that right, what would happen to social media?” he said. “If employers are allowed your password, then the government could step in next.”

UNA junior sociology major Jesse Leslie said demanding Facebook passwords could be unconstitutional.

“It doesn’t seem constitutional,” he said. “Nobody’s allowed to discriminate by age, race, gender, so it’s a fine line. I wouldn’t do it just on principle.”

It’s not fair for employers to be able to view private information intended only for specific groups, said Eddie Grissom, UNA junior and criminal justice major.

“It’s an invasion of privacy if you just wanted friends to be able to view that stuff,” he said.

UNA junior Mason Lee said he doesn’t think employers would ever have a real need to have access to employees’ social media accounts.

“I don’t see any good reason why they would need it unless you had some questionable activity,” he said. “And they definitely shouldn’t fire anyone because of it.”