By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Facebook is returning to the Maryland General Assembly.
Five days after sparking protests from lawmakers over his decision to block access to the popular networking site from legislative computers, the head of the assembly's information technology office said yesterday that he will reopen access to Facebook in the next day or two.
Director of Information Services Mike Gaudiello told the joint advisory committee on legislative data systems that he has put in place tools to scan legislative computers for the viruses and harmful software that prompted the block and that he is now comfortable allowing Facebook. He warned that he might shut down access again if he believed it posed a risk and said a block on MySpace, also instituted last week, would remain in place.
There had been few complaints about the MySpace restriction, and the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment late yesterday. But lawmakers had howled over the loss of Facebook, which many said they saw as an integral tool for communicating with constituents about action in Annapolis.
As more and more politicians join Facebook -- Gov. Martin O'Malley has a page, as does President Obama -- Maryland lawmakers had complained that the block was out of step with the rest of the country. Neither the U.S. Congress nor the Virginia General Assembly bans the sites.
A group was formed on Facebook to protest the action, called "Maryland General Assembly feels Insecure about Facebook. Puh-leaze!" As of late yesterday, it had 290 members.
Gaudiello said lawmakers and their staff members should find the ban lifted today or Thursday, after he sends a memo explaining new scanning procedures for security.
"If I thought we were still vulnerable, I would not be doing this, regardless of the pressure," he said.
As word of the change trickled out, Facebook users began celebrating. But Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) noted one downside: "Sadly, by resolving this, we probably have resolved the issue over which we will achieve the greatest national prominence."