Former Conn. AG supports petition over password demands

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Apr 6, 2012


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - In nearly a week, more than 50,000 people have signed a petition calling for federal action against employers who demand that job applicants turn over their usernames and passwords to social media sites like Facebook.

T. Neil Sroka, press secretary for Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said Thursday that nearly 55,000 people have signed the committee's petition at ProtectOurPasswords.com -- and the signatures are rolling in by the minute.

"Employers should not be allowed to demand private social networking passwords from job applicants. This privacy violation needs to be investigated -- and needs to be stopped," the online petition states.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is backing the petition.

"There is no excuse for employers to violate employees' basic privacy rights on social networks -- and as this petition continues to grow, I will use it to urge action on this issue," Blumenthal told the committee this week.

Last month, the former Connecticut Attorney General, along with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., submitted letters to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice, pressing the agencies to look into the practice.

"According to recent reports, certain employers across the country are demanding the information from job applicants as part of the interview process -- including photos and personal messages not shared with anyone else," the senators said in a statement.

Both argue that the practice represents a "grave intrusion" into personal privacy, and could set a "dangerous precedent" for personal privacy and online privacy.

The senators note it also could make it more difficult for Americans to get jobs and expose employers to more discrimination claims.

"I am alarmed and outraged by rapidly and widely spreading employer practices seeking access to Facebook passwords or confidential information on other social networks," said Blumenthal, who served as Connecticut's top lawyer from 1991 to 2011.

"With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants' private, password-protected information."

Blumenthal said a federal investigation would decide whether the practice is illegal under federal law.

Until then, a ban on the practice, he said, is necessary to stop "unreasonable and unacceptable" invasions of privacy.

According to a recent report by The Associated Press, some employers are not only asking prospective employees for their Facebook usernames and passwords, but email account information, too.

Facebook has come out against the reported practice.

Erin Egan, chief privacy officer for the social networking site, said it is a violation of the company's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

"This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user's friends. It also potentially exposes the employer who seeks this access to unanticipated legal liability," she said in a statement last month.

"As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn't have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don't know and didn't intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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