Md. corrections department suspends Facebook policy for prospective hires

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has suspended a roughly year-old practice of asking prospective employees to voluntarily divulge their user names 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 perceived that 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 the headline "Want a Job? Password, please!" Deborah Jeon, legal director of 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 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.

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 user names and passwords was unrelated to that process and was conducted by its human resources department prior to the stage when likely hires would undergo a thorough background check that can include interviews with family members and friends, said an official familiar with the process.

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