As if applying for a job wasn’t nerve wracking enough, now employers are asking applicants – and sometimes employees – to hand over their Facebook usernames and passwords. Really? This alarming trend, which has caught the attention of two Australian senators, has made its way to Canada. Some people are so desperate to land jobs or keep the ones they have that they comply with this demand that goes against Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Under the “Registration and Account Security” section of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, it clearly states that “you will not share your password, (or in the case of developers, your secret key), let anyone else access your account or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account.” Facebook has cautioned employers not to request job applicants’ login information not only because it violates the site’s policy but also because if an employer gets the Facebook login information from a job applicant who is a member of a “protected group” and then doesn’t hire that person, the employer could easily be slapped with a discrimination lawsuit.

It used to be that employers just viewed job seekers’ Facebook pages until the job seekers wised up and started limiting access to them. But times are more desperate now, and employers know it. And clearly, they don’t think background checks are good enough. Still. …

Even though many people make their Facebook pages public, if someone sets his page to “Friends Only,” then a potential employer’s asking him for his Facebook login information really is an invasion of privacy. And some Facebook pages are more personal than others. People express their political views, personal biases and pleasures on their Facebook pages. More important, giving a total stranger access to login information is dangerous. Once a potential employer has access to a job applicant’s login information, she can do anything she wants. Anything.

In the United States, Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have asked the US Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to start an investigation. They also have plans to create a bill that would cover areas that current laws don’t.

In a public statement, Schumer said, “In an age where more and more of our personal information — and our private social interactions — are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public and protect personal information from their would-be employers. This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence.”

Tony Bradley in his article for PC World makes an interesting point that business leaders would be wise to consider before demanding the login information from a job applicant.

Says Bradley, “If you expect employees to have the integrity and discipline not to share their personal passwords to the company network, you shouldn’t force them to go against the practice by requiring their Facebook passwords. Sharing the Facebook password is a “gateway drug” that puts the security of your whole network at risk. Once you’ve established that it’s a standard practice for your company, your employees are more likely to fall for subsequent password requests.”

More than once, the request for Facebook login information has been compared to asking someone to hand over the keys to his house. This is not small matter. Some US state legislators are already planning to make such requests illegal. Whether or not Canada follows suit remains to be seen.