A new investigation has revealed that more and more institutions across the United States are requiring personal social media passwords from potential students and employees. Legally.

It may be difficult to accept, but as it stands, it is completely legal for an employer to ask for your Facebook password or similar during an interview, or as a stipulation of you accepting a potential position. And it’s not just the corporate world; nationwide schools (most notably college athletics programs) have started doing the same, forcing students to relinquish all personal data, information, and history ever posted within their private online accounts. MSNBC has begun an investigation into some of these practices, and the results of its inquiries are a collection of what would be considered very disturbing anecdotes to advocates of privacy.

In Maryland’s government-run Department of Corrections, for example, those seeking jobs are faced with a very awkward section of their first interview. They are placed in front of a computer, and told to log into their Facebook account while the interviewer guides them through their past posts, photos, and friend’s list from over their shoulder. Previously, MSNBC reports, applicants were asked to simply surrender their username and password to the facility management, but changed its practice to the more “moderate” version just described after numerous complaints from the ACLU.

The investigation has also revealed various colleges across the country employing a similarly invasive system as part of their athletics programs. Often, if you want to play for the school, you’ll need agree to “friending” a “coach or compliance officer” on Facebook who will be given access to all personal posts without privacy provisions. Some institutions have even begun working with companies specializing in software packages that automate the system, offering what’s called a “reputation scoreboard” that sends a student’s compliance officer “threat level” warnings about the nature of his or her social networking activity.

The report even cited recent changes to multiple official college handbooks, such as the following excerpt from the University of North Carolina: “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings,” it reads. “The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.”

Currently, this practice is completely legal, though some lawyers are claiming it a major violation of First Amendment rights, comparing the practice to requiring students or employees to allow monitoring audio bugs in their houses. Such concerns have thus far caused only a few states such as Illinois and Maryland to, at the very least, examine legislation that would prevent the practice, but some people, such as D.C. lawyer Bradley Shear, thinks national attention is required, and fast.

“We need a federal law dealing with this,” Shear said. “After 9/11, we have a culture where some people think it’s OK for the government to be this involved in our lives, that it’s OK to turn everything over to the government. But it’s not. We still have privacy rights in this country, and we still have a Constitution.”


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