updated 3/23/2012 6:19:33 PM ET 2012-03-23T22:19:33

Facebook says it may take legal action against potential employers who demand job applicants' Facebook user names and passwords, a strong stance against what the company calls a "distressing increase" in reports of applicants being asked to reveal their social-networking login credentials.

"As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job," Facebook's chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, said in a statement today (March 23). "And as a friend of a user, you shouldn't have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don’t know and didn't intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job."

The report that sparked the controversy, from the Associated Press, detailed several companies and organizations that either demanded applications hand over their Facebook passwords or log in to their accounts during the screening process.

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Facebook, often scrutinized over its own alleged privacy violations, has made it clear it does not support the practice. Sharing or soliciting a Facebook password is now a violation of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which all users must abide by ; sharing and soliciting a password also violates Facebook's user agreement.

In a show of support for its gigantic user base, Egan said Facebook will "take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, when appropriate, by initiating legal action, including by shutting down applications that abuse their privileges."

Also going to bat for Facebook users' rights is U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who told Politico that he was drafting a bill to ban employers from asking for job-seekers' Facebook passwords. He said the bill would be ready "in the near future."

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