According to the city officials, employee applicants must sign a waiver giving the city permission to conduct an investigation into the person's background, which includes handing over social networking login credentials to city administrators.
The application form requests that prospective employees submit information on current personal or business Web sites, Web pages or memberships in chat rooms and social networking sites, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com and MySpace, among others, according to a report on the Web site of CBS affiliate KZBK in Bozeman.
Apparently, that kind of personal information is necessary to investigate a job applicant's "background, references, character, past employment, education, credit history, criminal or police records."
The request is followed by three lines where applicants are requested to submit usernames, passwords and other login information.
City attorney Greg Sullivan said that Bozeman takes privacy seriously but defended the city's policy, saying that such investigations are necessary to protect the integrity of its workforce.
"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," Sullivan told KZBK.
The city's application policy was met with a barrage of criticism from privacy rights groups and Twitter tweeters who say that asking for login credentials constitutes a violation of privacy rights. Once city officials have access to a profile on Facebook, or any other social networking site, they also have access to all of the information provided by the user's "friends," critics point out.
Bozeman officials might be weighing other options, however. City officials held a 90-minute, closed-door meeting with city staff on Friday morning to discuss the controversy.
There also are other problems with the policy. Many social networking sites have policies prohibiting users from sharing passwords and login information. "You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account," according to Facebook's EULA.
The city maintained that all information disclosed on employee applications is private. But one curious or wayward worker could disclose copious information, not just on the applicant, but on hundreds of the applicant's "friends," which could leave the city vulnerable to untold liability and privacy lawsuits.
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