Feb. 24, 2011 at 2:12 PM ET
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) wants to get a few things straight.
First, DPSCS never "demanded" Facebook log-in information from applicants and employees returning from leave. These individuals were "asked" for that information, and if he or she didn’t want to provide it, then hey — it’s all good!
Second, since the American Civil Liberties Union made such a stink about it, as well as a YouTube video, the agency has suspended the practice, reports the Atlantic. This news comes days after the ACLU video went viral. It features a first personal account by Officer Robert Collins, a nursing student, father and corrections supply officer with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Returning from a leave of absence following his mother's death, Collins said he was told that he'd have to hand over his Facebook log in and password if he wanted to be reinstated, and that this was now standard procedure.
"My personal communications, my personal posts, my personal pictures, looking at my personally identifiable information, where my religious beliefs, my political beliefs, my sexuality — all of these things are possibly disclosed on this page," Collins tells the camera. "It's absolute total invasion and overreach."
The ACLU of Maryland posted the video on Feb. 18, three weeks after the organization sent a letter to Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard on behalf of Collins (to which no one responded).
Then the DPSCS responded — to the Washington Post and other media publications after the Collins video kicked up Internet outrage. The Post reports:
Gary D. Maynard, Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services, sent a letter to the ACLU saying the practice had been temporarily suspended, a spokesman said.
In a statement, the department said requests for user names and passwords had been voluntary, and had not been taken into account when evaluating job applicants.
Nonetheless, "in light of these concerns raised by the ACLU and because this is a newly emerging area in the law, the department has suspended the process of asking for social media information for 45 days to review the procedure and to make sure it is being used consistently and appropriately," the statement said.
Maryland's prison system started screening employees for gang ties last year, but the more recent requests for Facebook passwords are not connected with the anti-gang violence initiative. Further, the requests are made well before applicants and those returning from leave undergo a screening process that includes interviews with family and friends.
Certainly, this is a "newly emerging area of the law," and worth remembering that the answer to similar outrages sure to arise in the future is more complicated (in the long run) than simply staying off Facebook.
Here’s what the ACLU of Maryland has to say about it:
As many of us begin to rely on sites like Facebook to stay connected to our friends and family, it's important for employers and the government to keep in mind that, for most users, Facebook is a medium for private communications. It can be adjusted to be more or less public, both by the settings and by how many people are invited to be friends. So the Maryland DOC requiring full disclosure of an employee's Facebook page is no different from your boss looking through your diary, personal emails or home videos.
It’s important to understand your rights, y’all. And here's the original ACLU video:
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