Skip to content

Montana Job Applications Required FaceBook Password

2009 June 22
by Richard N. Landers
Previous Post:
Next Post:

Until a few days ago in Bozeman, Montana, if you passed the initial hurdles during the selection process for a city job, you were only provisionally hired.  Full hiring was contingent on the selection officers judging you as a clean slate after giving them your social networking IDs and passwords, including at least Facebook and MySpace.

Legally speaking, I understand Bozeman’s concerns.  The positions that the city hires for are sometimes public, and public figures should generally have clean records.  I understand a background check, but this is a bit extreme:

“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,, MySpace, etc.,” the City form states. There are then three lines where applicants can list the Web sites, their user names and log-in information and their passwords.

When news of this practice became public knowledge, an apparent explosion of angry e-mails and tweets followed, ultimately leading the City of Bozeman to halt this practice, although they seem to be keeping the passwords they have already collected as “confidential city property.”

This is to some extent continuing a discussion about social networking we had here earlier, although this is an extreme that I had not considered.  As we talked about before, this practice may or may not be legal – asking candidates to submit extra information about themselves, even passwords, is probably itself legal (although you might consider it an invasion of privacy).  But indirect, unintentional discrimination might occur as a result of such a system – if Candidate A has a FaceBook account with pictures of debauchery and Candidate B doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that Candidate B isn’t as much or even more of a drunkard.  And if membership in a social network (or even propensity to post incriminating information on such networks) is correlated with membership in any protected class, then you will have adverse impact and eventually litigation headed your way.

My advice to organizations remains “just don’t do it.”  We know enough about social networks to say that the information they contain is unstable, and we don’t know enough about social networks to say that unstable information is useful.  Tempting as it may be, let Johnny’s personal life remain personal; everyone will be happier that way.

Previous Post:
Next Post:
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS