Officer forced to reveal Facebook page

ACLU claims privacy invaded

Division of Correction suspends practice during review of job applicant process

  • Robert Collins, 29, complained to the American Civil Liberties Union that his privacy had been invaded after he was required to hand over his Facebook password to an investigator as part of a job reapplication process.
Robert Collins, 29, complained to the American Civil Liberties… (Jerry Jackson, Baltimore…)
February 23, 2011|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A corrections officer from Baltimore says he was required to provide his Facebook password when he reapplied for his former job, and had to watch as his personal page and its postings were perused by an investigator.

Robert Collins, 29, complained to the American Civil Liberties Union that his privacy had been invaded, and now the state Division of Correction is backing off, saying it will suspend such demands for 45 days during a review of the matter.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Collins said his immediate reaction to the investigator's request "was one of disgust and shock," but he was told such demands were "part of the hiring process." Collins, who ultimately was reinstated as a corrections officer — a job from which he had taken a four-month leave of absence last year after his mother died — said he had "no choice" but to agree to the investigator's demand.

"I felt like if I didn't comply completely with the process I wouldn't get my job back, that I would no longer be considered for reinstatement to my position," said Collins, who has two children. "I felt I was being treated like a person who had committed a crime, and that my whole life was being scrutinized under a microscope."

In a letter to the ACLU's Baltimore office on Tuesday, Gary D. Maynard, secretary of the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services, said the practice of requesting social media passwords was being suspended for 45 days "so that it can be studied further."

"The department's efforts to explore an applicant's behavior on social media networks stems not from a desire to invade personal privacy, but rather from a legitimate and serious concern with the infiltration of gangs into our prisons," Maynard wrote in his letter to Sara N. Love, president of the ACLU's Maryland chapter. "I am sure you would agree that permitting applicants who engage in illegal activities, or have gang affiliations, to be employed as correctional officers compromises the safety of all inmates and employees within our prison walls."

While welcoming the agency's suspension of the practice, Deborah Jeon, the ACLU's legal director for Maryland, said it had taken Maynard's office almost four weeks to respond to Collins' complaint.

"A policy that requires employees and job applicants to give the government log-ins and passwords constitutes an invasion of privacy both for the employee and for his or her friends who are also having their privacy compromised by this," said Jeon, who noted that Collins had set up his Facebook page with the most restrictive privacy settings available.

The practice of demanding such passwords, Jeon said, "basically overrides all the privacy protections that the user has erected."

Collins joined the DOC in July 2007 and was a supply officer at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup before taking a leave in April last year. When he reapplied in July, he said, he was offended when the investigator — "a complete stranger" — had insisted on looking at his "personal posts, pictures, messages and things of that nature." Collins noted that he was informed later that he had "passed all the background checks" and would be given a date on which to begin work anew.

"It's how I make my living, it's how I support my children," he said. "I want to be a contributing member of society."

His complaint to the ACLU stemmed from his desire to "compel the state to do what was right," Collins said. "I believe they're going to act with integrity."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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