Are Passwords to Applicants Social Networking Sites Fair Game?

Nick Fishman

According to the ABA Journal, the city of Bozeman, Montana is asking job applicants to provide a list 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.  While we’ve written extensively about our objections to using such sites for employment background checks, we understand that it happens.  What we have never seen happen is another requirement of the city which asks candidates to list their user names and log-ins.

We are all for extensive employment background checks and stringent employment screening practices, but this seems a little over-reaching.  Do you think the city has gone so far over the line that they can’t even see it anymore?  I wonder what our favorite legal bloggers from Ohio and Delaware think about this policy.

Town Requires Job Seekers to Reveal Social Media Passwords

A human resources requirement by the city of Bozeman, Mont., that job applicants provide a host of personal information, including passwords to social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, is creating a sensation online.

E-mail is fair game too considering officials also ask for passwords to Google and Yahoo accounts.

Montana’s News Station, a CBS affiliated site, reports that they were tipped to the application process from an anonymous individual who was concerned about Bozeman’s background check policies.

According to the station, job seekers for Bozeman city posts are required to sign a background check waiver. In addition to allowing standard criminal records checks and past employment reviews, the applicant is required to do the following:

“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 then offers three lines for applicants to list websites, their user names and log-in information and their passwords, Montana News Station reports.

City Attorney Greg Sullivan is quoted as defending the policy: “We have positions ranging from fire and police, which require people of high integrity for those positions, all the way down to the lifeguards and the folks that work in city hall here. So we do those types of investigations to make sure the people that we hire have the highest moral character and are a good fit for the city.”

In a follow up piece on the Bozeman HR requirements, the Montana News Station reports that, as a result of the story, Bozeman officials are receiving an e-mail a minute about the policy.

At the time the follow up story was reported, more than 5,000 votes had been tallied in an online poll (IMAGE) about the issue. A whopping 98 percent say the policy is an invasion of privacy.

The city is reviewing the policy. And they may be speeding the effort now that Facebook has become aware of the city’s HR policy.

The information technology publication, The Register, quotes Facebook as saying the Bozeman policy “is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which received feedback from users and was ultimately approved in a site-wide vote.”

Facebook further indicated it would be in touch with Bozeman officials.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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  • Talk about over-reaching. If I’m an applicant, I understand that what I voluntarily put out on the web is potentially fair game for an employer to use to judge me a potential employee. But – I also know that there are reasonable steps I can take to protect some of that information, such as only making my Facebook profile available to friends.

    This practice seems like an extreme invasion of privacy. It would make me second-guess my decision to work for this employer. If this employer is going to go that far in monitoring me before I’m hired, what are they going to do after I’m hired? Tell me how many times I can go to the bathroom? Count how many minutes I spend getting a cup of coffee? Charge me for the sugar packet?

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