I almost skipped the whole issue for just that reason until I realized that this story in the Atlantic, this one on the Huffington Post and this column in Time all earnestly ask the same question for the benefit of a non-geek audience:
Can a prospective employer require that you turn over your Facebook username and password to help with a "background check" on you, or, if they're delicate, require that you log in yourself so they can read over your shoulder to see what kind of dangerous, social networking terrorist you really are?
It's an idiotic question. No, of course they can't. Except, outside the tech world, issues about privacy and ownership, what is work-related Internet use and what is personal is a lot more confused.
According to Time and the San Francisco Chronicle, it's not only companies that try this. Colleges also demand Facebook access either to further vet students applying for admission or, even more outrageously, to let coaches or teachers continually eavesdrop on social-network posts to keep track of which students are behaving in ways that make them worthy of a scholarship.
What prompted this sense of entitlement to other people's privacy?
Normal people (non-geeks), especially managers who pay little attention to social networking except to forbid it on company time as a waste of resources, tend still to look for 'official' answers to questions about whether bosses, cops, federal agents or anyone else can legitimately demand the right to sift through their private email, chat logs, Facebook pages or other digital content, fishing for things to which they can object or lodge an indictment.