Cozen O’Connor

Must you give a job interviewer your Facebook password?

March 28, 2012: 12:08 PM ET

Asking candidates for social media passwords may soon be illegal in some states. In the meantime, here's how to say "no" gracefully.

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: What's all this I hear lately about job interviewers requiring applicants to hand over their Facebook passwords? I've been job hunting for about three months. (I'm working now, but not thrilled with my current employer.) So far, no prospective employer I've met has requested this information, but someone told me more companies are doing so these days, so I want to be prepared.

I really don't feel comfortable letting strangers nose around in my private Facebook postings -- and why would they need to see baby pictures of my kids and snapshots of my last vacation, anyway? So if an employer does ask, how can I say "No way!" without blowing my chances of being hired? — MYOB in Michigan

Dear MYOB: The reason you haven't come across any job interviewers asking for your Facebook password is that the practice is pretty rare, for some complicated legal reasons (more about that in a minute). Nonetheless, it has happened here and there, and the blogosphere has been buzzing with indignant rants about the practice.

The brouhaha started when word got out that the Maryland Department of Corrections was asking applicants, and even some current employees, for their Facebook passwords. Officials at the agency said the request was aimed at making sure that prospective prison guards didn't have any gang affiliations. After trolling through 2,689 applicants' Facebook pages, the agency declined to hire seven applicants based on what their Facebook pages revealed.

MORE: Do you really want to make partner?

The American Civil Liberties Union complained that this was a violation of applicants' privacy, and Maryland state legislators introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring job candidates to provide their Facebook passwords. Not to be outdone, lawmakers in Illinois and California came up with similar proposals. None of the bills have been signed into law just yet. More

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