The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken up the cause of Officer Robert Collins, a Maryland man who was forced to hand over his Facebook login credentials during a recertification interview with the Maryland Division of Corrections (DOC). Collins took the time to describe what happened in his specific case in a video on YouTube.
On January 25, the ACLU of Maryland sent a letter (PDF) to Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard on behalf of Collins, concerning the DOC's blanket requirement that applicants for employment, as well as current employees undergoing recertification, provide the government with their social network account usernames and passwords for use in employee background checks. It has been three weeks, and they have still not heard back.
"The demand for Facebook login information is not only a gross breach of privacy for Officer Collins and his friends, it raises significant legal concerns under the Federal Stored Communications Act and Maryland state law, which protect privacy rights and extend protections to electronic communications," an ACLU spokesperson said in a statement. "As many of us begin to rely on sites like Facebook to stay connected to our friends and family, it's important for employers and the government to keep in mind that, for most users, Facebook is a medium for private communications."
It's important to note that this is not equivalent to checking what a job applicant has posted publicly on the Internet. Collins emphasized that his Facebook account has the highest privacy settings employed, meaning that all of his messages are private. This is more like the government agency going through his personal mail.
"I was subjected to a customary usual background investigation," Collins said. "What was not customary usual was a request or to me, rather a demand, which was the insinuation for my Facebook e-mail and login information, my personal login information. Here I am, a US citizen who hasn't broken any laws, who hasn't committed any crime, and I have an employer looking at my personal communications, my personal posts, my personal my pictures, you know looking at my personally identifiable information... you know, where my religious, my political beliefs, my sexuality; all of these things are possibly disclosed on this page. It's an absolute total invasion, and an overreach, and overstep of their power."