Facebook Considering New Laws And Legal Action Against Employers Asking For Users’ Passwords

Following up on disturbing reports that some employers are asking applicants to turn over their Facebook usernames and passwords, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer on Policy, Erin Egan, hints that the company is looking into drafting new laws to protect users from violations of their privacy like this.

Writes Egan on the company’s Privacy page:

“Facebook takes your privacy seriously. 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.”

The issue involving employers asking for users’ Facebook credentials recently caught the attention of the ACLU, which had previously become involved in a similar case back in 2010. The case was also cited by an AP report on the trend earlier this week.

During a reinstatement interview at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Robert Collins was asked to provide his Facebook username and password, which the agency said they needed to check for gang affiliations. Although Collins said he was shocked by the request, he felt he had no choice but to comply because he needed the job. The agency later reconsidered its policy, asking applicants to “voluntarily” provide their username and password instead.

“Voluntarily,” however, is still wrong, and Facebook seems to agree.

Egan points out that all of this is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which explicitly states that users cannot share or solicit a Facebook password. The pertinent section reads:

You will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.

He also notes that, by requesting such information, employers may be unknowingly be putting themselves in other potentially troublesome legal hot water. Perhaps they’ll discover someone is disabled, an ethnic minority, LGBT, a senior citizen, etc., and then get into trouble for not hiring them.

“For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don’t hire that person,” writes Egan.

In the announcement’s conclusion, however, comes the key part: Facebook will look into ways to see this practice of password-sharing stopped, even if it involves litigation or new laws. Facebook says it will engage policy makers on the matter, initiate legal action and even shut down applications that abuse their privileges.

That latter part involving rogue apps isn’t really related to this employer abuse situation, but falls under the larger umbrella of protecting Facebook users’ privacy.

The full announcement is available here.