Md. prison system suspends practice of asking for prospective employees' Facebook passwords
Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has suspended a roughly year-old practice of asking prospective employees to voluntarily divulge their usernames and passwords to social media Web sites such as Facebook to check for gang affiliations, the department said Tuesday.
The little-known practice gained notoriety on Feb. 14 when the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland issued a press release and subsequent YouTube video detailing the story of a corrections officer who said he thought he had no choice but to turn over his passwords or risk failing recertification to work in the state's prison system.
"I understood the investigator to be saying that I had ... to hand over my Facebook log-in and password," said Officer Robert Collins, who had taken a leave of absence from the department and was trying to return to his old job.
The YouTube video ran with a headline "Want a Job? Password, please!" And Deborah Jeon, legal director for the state's ACLU, called on Maryland to end the practice, saying it amounted to the state demanding "to listen in on [prospective employees'] personal telephone calls as a condition of employment."
On Tuesday, 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 usernames 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.
To combat gang violence in the state's prison system, Maryland last year authorized its corrections system to begin screening employees for gang ties. The request for usernames and passwords was unrelated to that process and was conducted by its human resources department before the stage when likely hires would undergo a thorough background check that could include interviews with family members and friends, said an official familiar with the process.
Here's the full statement released by Maryland's corrections department on Tuesday:
"During the initial interview, or recertification processes, DPSCS does not require correctional officer applicants to provide any information related to social media. An applicant is asked if they are active users of social media. If so, the Department only asks if an applicant would provide this information. If any information is provided by an applicant, it is done so voluntarily. If an applicant does not provide this information, it is not held against them and the interview process moves forward.
The Department has a legitimate concern about the infiltration of gangs into our prison system. DPSCS' efforts to explore an applicant's behavior on social media networks is not done through a desire to invade personal privacy, rather it is an effort to make sure the safety and security of our staff and inmates inside our correctional institutions is not compromised.
However, 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."
Aaron C. Davis
| February 22, 2011; 7:46 PM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis
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