Drawing the line between private and professional

Rui Shi

John Doe is a successful engineering student in his final year of school. Armed with a 4.0 GPA, numerous academic awards and a long list of professional experience, Doe is primed to enter the job hunt. He has no shortage of suitors and receives an interview request from a top technology company. With his impressive resume and interview skills, Doe is virtually assured of securing his dream job. He goes through the motions of the application process but in the fine print he finds the phrase: “Please hand over your Facebook password so that we can inspect your profile.”

Say what?

The House recently voted down an amendment that would have banned employers from demanding access to Facebook accounts. This amendment was a part of a larger Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reform package, and its failure could be attributed to other factors, such as its vague language. For example, one clause gave the FCC the power “to adopt a rule or to amend an existing rule to protect online privacy.”

Granted, the amendment needs to be rewritten to ensure that people would not have to put blind faith in the FCC to do the right thing. However, the amendment should have still passed in its current form because of the magnitude of what was at stake. This failure shows a disconnect between lawmakers and the general public on the issue of privacy.

The phenomenon of requiring an applicant’s Facebook username and password as a part of the hiring process is a gross violation of an individual’s privacy. There is a fine line between a person’s private and professional lives. Many feel the need to separate the two, and employers have no right to forcibly obtain that information. In rough-and-tumble economic times, it is extremely unfair for employers to force applicants to choose between their privacy and getting a job.

Although it is important for applicants go through a background check, requiring Facebook passwords is a step too far.

This practice is akin to requiring applicants to hand over the keys to their house so that employers can make sure that everything is nice and tidy. While they are at it, why not let them also get the mail out of your mail box? Because both actions would be crimes.

Facebook’s own terms of use state that “you will not share your password … let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account,” yet employers are now forcing some applicants to violate this agreement.

People ought to be outraged, as employers who engage in this practice seem to have lost their sense of what privacy means. Such blatant violations of individual privacy should be deemed illegal. Congress, however, does not feel the same way.

A decade ago, privacy meant that others could not intrude into a person’s private property or disseminate a person’s private information. With the explosion of social media, however, that definition, along with the laws that protect it, are no longer adequate. Facebook has played an active role in this redefinition process but has also perpetuated the loss of privacy. Facebook’s past insensitivities about user privacy have propelled sensitive personal information into the public domain. This new access to information has prompted employers to take the next step by getting to know everything about an applicant.

The practice of requiring Facebook passwords as a part of the job application process must end. Congress must take action to ban this practice and ensure that modern privacy is respected.

Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.