Senator promises bill to block invasive employer Facebook checks

Sen. Richard BlumenthalSen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced this week that he plans to submit a bill that would make it illegal for employers to require job applicants to turn over the social network login credentials. Blumenthal’s legislation plan comes as Facebook warns that employers could face legal action if they request job candidates’ username and password as part of the interview process.

“I am very deeply troubled by the practices that seem to be spreading voraciously around the country,” Blumenthal told Politco. He added that employers already have “a lot of ways to find out information” about job candidates.

Blumenthal says that his bill, once finished, will include some exceptions, like for federal and local law enforcement agencies, and government agencies that handle national security issues. He did indicate that private companies that receive government contracts would be regulated under the legislation.

The controversy over employers requesting Facebook and other social media login credentials stems from an Associated Press article, published earlier this week, which showed that some employers have begun requiring that candidates turn over these passwords as part of a background check.

Companies have long used applicants’ social media presence as part of their vetting process, but most have limited to what can be found through publicly available posts, which does not include most Facebook activity, which is usually private. As Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan noted today, this practice does not just violate the “privacy expectations and security” of the job applicant, but also that of everyone with whom the applicant is friends on the social network.

“We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s right the thing to do,” writes Egan. “But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating.  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.”

Egan adds that Facebook will “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.”

 So far, Facebook has not commented on whether it would support Blumenthal’s legislation, or work with the senator to help draft the bill. We have requested comment on the matter, and will update this space if/when we receive a response.

Sen. Blumenthal says that the legislation, while still a work-in-progress, will be submitted to Congress “soon.”