When, in June, the City of Bozeman, Montana sought to change its job application to require municipal job seekers to disclose usernames and passwords for popular social networking sites, it immediately drew widespread criticism. Specifically, Bozeman asked applicants to "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." In the aftermath of media exposure, Bozeman has decided to "suspend its practice of reviewing candidate’s password protected internet information until the City conducts a more comprehensive evaluation of the practice."

On June 19, 2009, city manager Chris Kukulski officially apologized (.pdf) for the intrusive application, stating “[t]he extent of our request for a candidate’s password, user name, or other internet information appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community.”

This controversy is another indication that social networking sites and other digital media are coming under greater scrutiny as employers conduct background checks. For example, the application for high-level political positions in the Obama transition phase required applicants to include copies of e-mails that might embarrass the President, copies of all blog posts, a link to one’s Facebook page, and a list of “all aliases or ‘handles’ . . . used to communicate on the Internet.”

The Bozeman application would have required applicants to violate Facebook’s Terms of Use, which state that “You will not share your password, let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” In addition, Bozeman’s request apparently was limited to obtaining usernames and passwords and did not seek authorization to access applicants’ sites. Consequently, any access by city officials might have run afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C), which prohibits intentionally accessing a “protected computer” without authorization.

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