Law enforcement recruits asked to hand over Facebook passwords, text messages

If you’re sworn to uphold the law or hope to be, should you have to bend over and allow hiring directors to sift through your personal communications and base personnel decisions on that content?

If a recent piece in USA Today is correct, then yes, yes you should. It’s not the first time this hiring practice has been alleged, (the city in question rapidly backed away from the practice once word got out) but it is just as shocking and upsetting each time we hear about it. One factor the USA Today piece doesn’t seem to acknowledge is the very easily made distinction between publicly made statements- whether to a friends-only list on Facebook or Twitter- and privately made ones, such as a text message or Facebook private message. If the allegation that hiring departments are demanding applicants’ personal login information is accurate, it’s a troubling one.

Would you allow a recruiter to read your love letters? Listen in on a conversation with your spouse or significant other? How is requesting carte blanche to read private Facebook messages- a functionality available with your login, as you know- any different? But USA Today says that’s the case in certain jurisdictions:

In Massachusetts, Malden Police Chief Jim Holland, whose agency has requested electronic message logs, said a recruit’s text messages revealed past threats of suicide, resulting in disqualification.

In New Jersey, Middletown Police Chief Robert Oches said a candidate was disqualified for posting racy photographs of himself with scantily clad women.

At the Florida conference, Crawford narrated a video full of officers’ inappropriate Facebook postings, from sexually explicit photographs to racially charged commentary. All of it, he said, argues for better background checks for incoming recruits.

A recent opinion published by the New York State Bar Association seems to set a reasonable boundary for information gleaned via social networking. The organization’s ethics committee approved using the networks for mining data, but disapproved of rifling around in users’ locked data, as well as “friending” individuals for the sole purpose of gathering incriminating information about them.

USA Today didn’t cite any specific instances of the request of Facebook passwords as a barrier to employment, but it seems more and more people are having difficulty understanding that just because a message is transmitted electronically, it doesn’t mean you should only send it if you’d be comfortable “seeing it in the newspaper.” This smug and grossly offensive idea is bandied around every time this practice comes under scrutiny, and it demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of technology and modern communications. Should you never have sex because an unscrupulous partner could surreptitiously photograph or film it and distribute the footage? Should you never visit the doctor because someone could find out and tell people you might be sick? Privately shared private information is just that… private. With the number of couples who meet over the internet nowadays or, for that matter, have spouses or significant others deployed for long periods, is there not a reasonable expectation of privacy in your one on one Facebook message box, for starters?

Have you ever had an employer or potential employer invade your privacy in such a manner? Did you relent to the request? Should hiring agencies be forbidden from engaging in such practices?

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