Media Contact

Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555;

February 14, 2011

BALTIMORE - The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is calling on the Maryland Division of Corrections (DOC) to rescind a blanket policy demanding personal social media passwords from corrections officers and applicants as part of the employment certification process. The ACLU's January 25 letter to Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard details the experience of Officer Robert Collins, who was ordered to supply his Facebook login information during a recertification interview - giving the DOC access to his private electronic communications, and leaving his friends vulnerable to governmental cyber-snooping.

"While the ACLU appreciates the DOC's need to ensure that corrections applicants and employees are not engaged in illegal activities, the demand for an officer's personal Facebook password simply goes too far," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "It is equivalent to a demand that officers permit the government to listen in on their personal telephone calls as a condition of employment."

Jeon added: "Would you want to be Facebook friends with Big Brother?"

In April of 2010, Collins took personal leave from his job as a Corrections Supply Officer with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, after three years of employment. While undergoing the process for recertification in connection to his return to work in November, Officer Collins was called for an interview with a DOC investigator. During the interview, Collins was directed to provide his Facebook username and password. Taken aback by this demand, he asked why the Department needed this information, since he maintains his Facebook account for personal use only, with the highest privacy settings he is aware of. The investigator replied that the demand was now a standard requirement of the DOC's process for hiring and recertification.

"I understood the investigator to be saying that I had no choice but to hand over my Facebook login and password if I wanted to continue my employment with the Division of Corrections," said Officer Collins. "We live in a time when national security is the highest priority, but it must be delicately balanced with personal privacy. My fellow officers and I should not have to allow the government to view our personal Facebook posts and those of our friends, just to keep our jobs."

If allowed to continue, this practice would permit the government to review wall postings, email communications, and photographs posted privately by the friends and family of job applicants and employees undergoing recertification. Not only is this demand a gross breach of privacy for Officer Collins and his friends on Facebook, it is illegal under the Federal Stored Communications Act and its Maryland counterpart. These laws were enacted to ensure the confidentiality of electronic communications, and make it illegal for an employer or anyone else to access stored electronic communications without valid authorization.