"People have been asked to delete their social media accounts, 'friend' a human resources director or coach, or even hand over the username and password of a personal account," the CSG report said. "The latter could mean the employer or school administrator could view very personal information about the individual in question, including, for example, his or her history of Facebook messages."
According to the CSG, employers and educational institutions have begun taking "extra steps to access information hidden behind the privacy walls that users erect," on social media sites.
The trend has attracted the attention of federal lawmakers as well. In March, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether the practice violates the Stored Communication Act or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In an open letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the two lawmakers noted that requiring employers and job applicants to provide login credentials to private social media accounts "may be unduly coercive and therefore constitute unauthorized access under both SCA and the CFAA."
Facebook itself has expressed concern over the issue. In a blog post earlier this year, Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer noted a "distressing increase" in reports about employers and others seeking access to social media accounts. "The most alarming of these practices is the reported incidents of employers asking prospective or actual employees to reveal their passwords," Egan noted.
Such requests are not only wrong, but also a violation of Facebook's privacy rules, Egan noted.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.