Why Facebook is the future of workplace surveillance

Want a job at a public agency? Well, you'd better be prepared to hand over your Facebook password or "friend" the HR department rep during your interview. Over the past few years, people applying for jobs that range from statistician to security guard have discovered that potential employers want more than references. They want access to everything these applicants have classed as "private" on their Facebook pages. So much for those privacy settings protecting you from the prying eyes of colleagues.

According to Manuel Valdes and Shannon Mcfarland, writing for the Associated Press, job seekers all across the country have reported having to hand over Facebook passwords or to log into their accounts during interviews. Mostly, these interviews have been for public agencies, many of which are associated with law enforcement or emergency response. Employers say that looking at people's private Facebook pages is better than a background check, because people's online friends know them better than real-life friends and neighbors.

The situation has gotten so creepy that the ACLU has stepped in to protect job applicants' right to privacy. Thanks to their work, and that of other civil liberties organizations, Illinois and Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to job seekers' accounts on social networks.

Valdes and McFarland describe the first case of Facebook prying that came to the ACLU's attention:

Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.

"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled.

After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.

"To me, that's still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it's still a violation of people's personal privacy," said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland's legislation.

While Collins was checked for "gang affiliations," other state agencies say they are checking for "inappropriate photos." Because it's not like "inappropriate photos" are a matter of subjective interpretation. And just remember, people who want to mess with you can always tag an "inappropriate photo" with your name and make it show up on your Facebook page just in time for that job interview.

Welcome to the new surveillance state, where you and your "friends" provide all the ammunition your future employers need to not hire you. I would not be surprised if the practice of handing over your Facebook password to employers becomes commonplace. Time for your monthly Facebook check and drug test!

Image by Detelina Petkova via Shutterstock