Employer groups and unions agree that information people openly put online is fair game when vetting potential staff, but requiring a job-hunter to provide access to their private Facebook page is going too far.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said yesterday there was anecdotal evidence that employers were already seeking access to job applicants' Facebook pages amid concerns a United States practice of demanding passwords as part of employment vetting would catch on.
"My preliminary view is that it is undesirable to use that kind of pressure in any kind of application situation. It is a 'there is no alternative' situation which is likely to put people under pressure and show up stuff they might have done as a silly 15-year-old, and five years later they are a sensible 20-year-old, but there is no way to withdraw that information permanently."
David Lowe, the employment services manager at the Northern Employers and Manufacturers' Association, said asking for people's login details went too far. He had never heard of it in New Zealand and doubted it would happen.
Checking the online presence of applicants was a legitimate practice, he said. "Employers know that you take it with a grain of salt. If you've got someone in their mid-40s who comes up on Google talking about their three-day benders, that can be helpful information. But if it's just youthful folly, we've all been there before."
Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway said asking for access to private pages on Facebook would be "a gross invasion of privacy" similar to demanding to see personal letters.
However, looking at information people chose to allow into the public domain was legitimate. He said job hunters confronted with requests for access to private pages should talk to a workers' advocate group, the Human Rights Commission or the Privacy Commissioner.
Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly also said he would not support such a practice in principle. He said it was possible an employer might be able to argue that they required access to that information in some circumstances. However as a general rule he did not think it was reasonable.
Ms Shroff said people should be careful about what they put on their Facebook sites - a Privacy Commission UMR survey had shown 11 per cent of people regretted putting information on Facebook.
The number who changed their privacy settings on Facebook had increased by 14 per cent in the last two years, "which is quite significant."
Her office had joined NetSafe in trying to ensure schoolchildren knew about the dangers of putting information on sites such as Facebook.