The world is a remarkably strange place. Things happen all that time that we would not believe if they happened in a movie.
Take the Montana city of Bozeman. Companies sometimes do background checks on prospective employees. Bozeman takes it a step further, though I think there’s a real case to be made that they’re really taking the easy way out. This gem appears on their background consent form:
Please list any and all, past and present, personal or business website or web pages, memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.
Immediately following are three blank lines with the headings “Website/Domain,” “Username/Member Log-In,” and “Password (if applicable).” Yes, they want passwords so they can log in to your accounts and rifle though your e‑mail and other information.
Where to begin?
The form offers three lines for this information. Three lines? Are they kidding? But joking aside, this is an egregious violation of privacy as I’ve ever seen, and by a city government, no less.
Beyond their having absolutely no right to ask for this information, I question the ramifications of their asking. Every site of this nature I know carries something along these lines in their terms of service agreement:
Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:
6. You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.
This is an agreement you make in exchange for using the service. The city is asking you to break every such agreement you’ve made, and risk having your accounts terminated.
In an article on montanasnewsstation.com about this issue, city attorney Greg Sullivan is quoted as saying,
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.
I’d suggest that people of “the highest moral character” would tell them to fuck themselves when asked to divulge this kind of information. Those who agree are not likely to be the most upstanding people. To go along with this requirement, a person would have to be desperate, subservient and easily controlled, or not very bright. Those are the qualities they’re looking for?
Which reminds me of another part of the background consent form. The Montana state constitution gives you the right to see the information the city gathers for their background check, but you waive that right by signing the form, and they will not divulge the information to you. I’d suggest that if the people safeguarding this information provided all their user names and passwords, it shouldn’t be hard to get them to hand over the information anyway. Whether through fast talking, bribes or threats, one should be able to get the information because those people have already shown themselves as unable to adhere to agreements they’ve made.
You may be thinking that it’s easy to say that applicants should tell them to go hang, but that it’s not so easy if one needs a job. This is true, but doing what’s right shouldn’t entirely fall by the way-side when it becomes difficult. I applied for a position with a company in the past, and as part of the application process, I was asked for a list of clients with which my previous employer contracted. They went further and asked for details about the contracts. I politely declined, explaining that I didn’t feel comfortable revealing my former employer’s client list, much less details of the contracts, some of which required security clearance to work on. I had no problem in detailing what I did, both specifically and in relation to the entire project, but they’d need to contact my former employer for the information they were asking. I was searching for a job for myself, not for my former employer. It’s true that I never heard from them, but I still feel I did exactly the right thing.
The people behind this idea don’t know what they are doing. To suggest such a thing from a position of knowledge would be idiotic. Take, for example, the issue of liability. If they have access to your account, who’s to say that they won’t find themselves in hot water if the account is hacked, whether by a city employee or someone else? Liken it to a credit card. If you give me your credit card for safekeeping and discover a bunch of charges you didn’t make, who are you going to accuse first? For this reason, few people would agree to hold on to your credit card unless they wanted to take advantage of you. Yet the city is requiring your credit card, so to speak, as a condition of employment. More than a few people in Bozeman aren’t thinking… including the city attorney, who is apparently supporting this disaster.
Also according to the montanasnewsstation.com article,
No one has ever removed his or her name from consideration for a job due to the request, Sullivan added.
Truly, the city will get exactly the type of people they deserve.