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State Agency Reviews Policy On Facebook Prying

If you were at a job interview, and the interviewer requested access to your Facebook account, what would you do? It's well-known that many employers check up on applicants' online lives when they're evaluating them — but a state agency in Maryland takes it a bit further.

When he sought a new position at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Robert Collins underwent a background check. And just to be sure he wasn't hiding anything, he was asked to provide his Facebook login.

That request stepped over boundaries Collins didn't want crossed — and he teamed up with the ACLU to put the agency back on its side of the line. The ACLU put up a video of Collins stating his case:

Collins says that he understands that the corrections department would want to be careful that its employees weren't involved in potentially illegal activities.

But, he said, "As officers, we do not forfeit our civil rights. You can't invade people's privacy and trample upon their rights just because it's convenient for you. It's unwarranted — it's illegal."

The Maryland Department of Public Safety has suspended the policy of asking applicants for Facebook information for at least 45 days to review the procedure. And the agency also clarified that its preferred practice has been not to ask for the information outright — but to ask if the applicant would be willing to provide it.

And it turns out that the state corrections agency has a Facebook page of its own, drawn from Wikipedia. It may come as little surprise that only one person had "liked" the page at the time of this writing.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.