Are Background Checks an Invasion of Privacy? Are Background Checks an Invasion of Privacy?

Your personal history is yours alone, so you might see background checks as encroaching upon it in a way that’s less than acceptable. When a prospective employer intends to run a check on you, they have to inform you of this fact in advance. Similarly, they are required to inform you if they want to subject you to ongoing checks if you’ve already been hired. Therefore, since you don’t need to give consent to a background check, it is not an invasion of privacy.

An employer cannot legally screen you by using a service such as which, while undoubtedly useful, is not a consumer reporting agency. Although someone might use it to check you without letting you know, they can’t use the information to make a hiring or tenancy decision.

Your prospective landlord or employer will typically ask you to sign a released statement for a background check, which is separate from your job application.

Applicable Legislation

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) is the law that requires financial institutions to protect consumers’ privacy and sensitive information examined during background screenings. When you apply for a loan, a line of credit, a mortgage, or another type of credit, the data provided must be compliant with GLBA. This means it has to be reliable, accurate, and current. According to this act, no financial institution may reveal nonfinancial, nonpublic, and personal information about you, including your name, phone number, or address, with a few exceptions.

It’s considered best practice to carry out ongoing reviews of screening policies and to be careful and consistent when performing background checks. There is a fine line between a company’s right to information and a job candidate’s right to privacy, and companies walk that line every day. A company’s policy should indicate the type and amount of information needed to ensure they’re hiring a qualified and safe person. In the best case, all parties involved will aim to achieve a fair and transparent process.

Permissible Variation

When conducting background screening, companies need to exercise caution. Most importantly, they need to limit their search to job-relevant data. For instance, if they decide to subject one candidate to a background check, they should subject all others to one, too. Some variation can be reckoned with, depending on job tasks and responsibilities, but variations in screening candidates become unacceptable when they’re all applying for the same position.

Are Social Media Checks Legal?

In an effort to save time and other resources, many recruiters resort to social media screening. In most cases, they mean well. They’re not looking for negative information. While it’s understandable that your prospective employer wants to prevent a hire that will tarnish the company’s image, some take this to extremes. For example, some interviewers have asked candidates to give them their social media passwords or to open their social media accounts during the interview.

Professionals generally advise employers to avoid examining their prospective hires’ social media. It’s a grey area of privacy protection – the information on social networks is not publicly available in the eyes of the law. Once you get this information as an employer, it would be difficult to make an objective decision. Therefore, this action has the potential to lead to discrimination and lawsuits.

Verification is another issue related to social media background checks. If the candidate’s name is common, the employer may mistakenly make their decision based on the wrong profiles. Then, there’s the problem with consistency. Someone who’s very active on social media might be at an unfair disadvantage over someone who is not. For these reasons, sticking to legal and conventional background checks is best.


As long as employers receive their candidates’ or employees’ consent, they have every right to run background checks without these being considered an invasion of privacy. After all, there’s no denying the fact that a bad hire can be nothing short of disastrous for an organization.