ACLU, AFSCME Call on Division of Corrections to Show Compliance with Maryland's Social Media Privacy Law

December 5, 2012

CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555; media@aclu-md.org 

Jeff Pittman, AFSCME, 443-509-4269, jpittman@afscmemd.org

 

BALTIMORE - Because it was the high-profile complaint by Robert Collins against the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) that spurred Maryland's first-in-the-nation social media privacy law barring employers from requiring or requesting access to the social media account of job applicants and employees, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland has joined with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to request that the agency provide information about changes made to bring their policy up-to-date with best practices and all legal requirements. In April 2011, the DPSCS announced a revised policy whereby applicants for job and current employees would "volunteer" access to their private, personal social media communications; if not changed, that policy would be in violation of the new law, which went into effect on October 1, 2012. 

 

"Last spring, the State of Maryland blazed a new frontier in protecting freedom of expression in the digital age, with its enactment of the Social Media Privacy Law," said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director of the ACLU of Maryland. "We now we are asking the Division of Corrections to inform employees and the public about whether their social media privacy policy has been fully updated to comply with this advancement. State law now codifies that Maryland employers cannot request access to the private online communications of employees and job seekers, which includes the ‘shoulder surfing' allowed by the DOC with its 2011 policy revision." 

 

In 2011, the ACLU took action after then-Division of Corrections Officer Robert Collins was required to provide his personal Facebook password during a DOC re-certification interview. Collins was an employee with DPSCS when he took a voluntary leave of absence following the death of his mother. Because his job had been filled in his absence, Collins applied for a comparable position within the corrections system and underwent a recertification.  There were no flags during this process, yet an interviewer asked whether he had social media accounts and to provide his passwords. Collins felt he had no choice but to provide his password, even though he knew it was not right, because he needed the job to support his family. Collins had to sit there while the interview logged on to his Facebook account and reviewed his messages, wall posts and photos. 

 

Collins' case received significant media attention across the country. Here in Maryland, it inspired state legislators - Senator Ron Young (D-Frederick, Washington) and Delegates Mary Washington and Shawn Tarrant (both D-Baltimore City) - to introduce a bill banning employers from asking for access to the social media accounts of job applicants and employees. In 2012, the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed first-in-the-nation legislation prohibiting employers from requiring or requesting employees or applicants to disclose their user names or passwords or to use any other means to access employees' personal Internet accounts as a condition of employment. 

 

"I am pleased and humbled to have been the impetus that sparked the collaboration between Maryland legislators and the ACLU to work to protect the privacy of Marylanders," said Robert Collins, former Department of Corrections employee, ACLU client, and advocate for social media privacy reform. "Further, I am glad that other states have followed Maryland's example and proposed or passed similar laws. Getting these laws on the books is a first step in the right direction; however, compliance by business, government, and various organizations is critical to ensure that Marylanders are indeed afforded the privacy and protection that this law mandates. No one should be subjected to feeling they must forfeit their dignity, privacy or that of their friends and family to obtain a job to provide for their family. In that spirit I would urge the Maryland Division of Corrections to disclose their current policy to be sure it complies with current law and allows their employees private lives to be respected and remain private." 

 

Now, the ACLU and AFSCME are calling on DPSCS to explain what changes the agency has made to update the flawed policy put in place following the Collins controversy. In April 2011, the DPSCS said that its reformed policy asked applicants for employment and recertification to "voluntarily" share their social media content with interviewing officials. However, the practice of peering over applicants' shoulders while they log into social media accounts - so-called "shoulder surfing" - conflicts with the privacy protections put into place by the new Maryland law. The point of that law, as the sponsors discussed in promoting it, is to prevent the dissemination to employers of any information intended to be kept private by employees and applicants - through whatever means are employed to access this private information.

 

 "AFSCME Maryland members place a great deal of importance on maintaining the right to privacy in the workplace. Coercing employees into providing personal passwords of non-work related social media sites is an abuse of power. AFSCME Maryland members will raise this issue with Secretary Maynard through our established Labor Management Committee," said Patrick Moran.

 

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