City to job applicants: Facebook, MySpace log-ins please
June 19, 2009
One of the things people tend to forget when posting pictures and personal information online is that a lot of it is only a short Internet search away from their current or potential employers (not to mention their parents). It has now become standard procedure for many employers to sit down with Google and cyberstalk potential employees, while the more savvy hunt down Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds. The city of Bozeman Montana, however, has decided that all of that is too much work—it’s now requesting that potential employees hand over the login credentials for any social networking sites they frequent.
Background checks are standard procedure for many jobs, as it allows employers to identify problematic legal histories and things of that nature. Bozeman is no exception, as it uses a waiver form to obtain an applicant’s consent to use their Social Security and driver’s license numbers to dig into their past. But the form is notable in that about a third of area that needs to be filled out by an applicant is devoted to website information.
"Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc." the form reads. But Bozeman isn’t simply interested in finding out where to look for potentially embarrassing personal details; the city wants full disclosure, since the form demands username and password information for each. City employees will apparently be able to dig through any information applicants have put online, regardless of whether it’s accessible to the public.
This actually goes well beyond a startling invasion of privacy in a state that has a reputation for a strong independent streak; it provides a serious risk of running afoul of employment law. Employers are typically prohibited from digging into an applicant’s ethnic or religious background. An Internet search already runs the risk of picking up photos or text that can reveal these sorts of details; opening a person’s social networking accounts would seem to make the discovery of these details almost inevitable.
A local news station spoke to Bozeman’s attorney and asked about the potential for problems of this sort. The city’s answer? Trust us! "One thing that’s important for folks to understand about what we look for is none of the things that the federal constitution lists as protected things, we don’t use those," said attorney Greg Sullivan. The interviewer was wise enough to point out that there were far less invasive ways of obtaining access to some of this information, such as having Bozeman open its own Facebook account, at which point Sullivan apparently said that might be worth looking into.
It’s probably safer to ascribe this sort of behavior to cluelessness rather than malice. But the cluelessness is apparently a two-way street, as Sullivan indicated that nobody has objected to the city’s request for login credentials.
This post has been written by John Timmer on June 18, 2009 9:25 PM couresy of arstechnica.com.