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Overstepping boundaries; Employers should be prohibited from demanding job applicants' passwords

There has always been a legitimate need to screen job candidates, but the widespread use of social media takes vetting to a new level that sometimes crosses the line into invasion of privacy.

This is a fairly new problem and a touchy area of concern, as outlined in a recent Associated Press article that told the story of job applicants being asked for their Facebook passwords and log-ins. One person refused and withdrew his application.

The moral of the story: In this day and age, assume nothing is private. Even if you have turned on privacy settings. And that's where lawmakers should step in. The question surrounding the legality of asking a job applicant for what is commonly thought of as private account information is being raised.

The topic is the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks. Apparently the practice is more prevalent among public agencies, especially for law enforcement positions.

The comparison to a form of coercion isn't far off the mark, especially when dealing with a job market that is just beginning to loosen its belt.

Some companies are using third-party applications to search through Facebook profiles, said E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and author of the book "The Twitter Job Search Guide." The "BeKnown" app can sometimes access personal profiles, except for wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.

Employers are not legally allowed to ask certain things, such as marital status. But access to someone's online Facebook account often displays this information.

All of this makes for an Orwellian scenario unimaginable even 15 years ago, which is either a long time for the very young or just a blip on the time line for older folks. Many people remember the days before Facebook, Twitter and other social media that have so many struggling to keep up with the bits and bytes being sent worldwide on a range of topics, from protests and uprisings that turn over long-held regimes to U.S. presidential campaigns to something as benign as what someone decided to wear that morning.

It all gets lost in the white noise of technology. That is, until some entity such as a new workplace, or even the old one that wants to find out what its employees have been doing all day, steps in.

There is still room for employers to gather the information they need without blurring privacy lines.