Updated If you apply for a job with the City of Bozeman, Montana - a mid-sized burg halfway across these United States - you're forced to surrender usernames and passwords for every account you've set up with websites of the "social networking" variety.
According to the City, that includes everything from Facebook and MySpace to YouTube to, well, Yahoo! and Google.
"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, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.," reads a waiver form that allows the City to investigate a job applicant's "background, references, character, past employment, education, credit history, criminal or police records."
Then it asks for usernames and passwords.
With most websites, sharing log-in information is verboten. "You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account," reads the Facebook EULA. "You will not transfer your account to anyone without first getting our written permission."
And then there's the question of whether the City of Bozeman has overlooked the great American right to privacy.
Speaking with a local Montana TV news station, City attorney Greg Sullivan says Bozeman takes privacy seriously. But he defends the burg's log-in grab. "So, 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," he said.
Ah, but if I hand over my Facebook user name and password, I'm also handing over an endless stream of information posted by my Facebook "friends."
"You know, I can understand that concern," Sullivan said. "One thing that's important for folks to understand about what we look for is none of the things that the federal constitution lists as protected things. We don't use those. We're not putting out this broad brush stroke of trying to find out all kinds of information about the person that we're not able to use or shouldn't use in the hiring process."
Sullivan did not respond to our request for comment. Talking with the news station, he said that the City would consider changing its policy so that job seekers would only be required to sign up the City as a "friend" on sites like Facebook. And he said that no job seeker has ever rescinded their application after reading the wavier form.
But that's because people rarely recognize a threat to their own privacy. Even if the City claims that privacy will be respected, you're handing your usernames and passwords to individual City workers. And individual workers have minds of their own. ®
Facebook is not pleased with the Bozeman situation and plans to contact the City. "This 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," the company tells us. "Our policies prohibit those who use the service from soliciting login information or accessing an account that belongs to someone else. In addition to violating Facebook’s policies, we think this practice violates personal privacy, and we plan to reach out to the City of Bozeman to discuss it with them."