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Maryland Takes Center Stage In Facebook Privacy Debate

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JESSUP, Md. (WJZ) — The debate over Facebook privacy takes center stage in Maryland.  For the first time anywhere in the country, some government workers claim the state demanded their Facebook passwords and then pried into their personal lives.

Adam May reports the practice just came to a halt.

Robert Collins was a corrections officer at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup.  He claims state officials violated his rights after he returned from a leave of absence. 

“During a background check, my Facebook account was accessed by a Department of Correction investigator who logged on using my email and password,” Collins said.  “I was disgusted, appalled.  I was shocked more than anything.”

“It seemed to me a truly invasive practice,” said Deborah Jeon, ACLU.

It was alarming to lawyers at the ACLU, a civil rights watchdog.  They claim the practice—affecting countless employees for years—also infringes on the rights of state workers’ Facebook friends.

“Email communications may have been intended to be private with him and now the government is able to review those communications, as well,” Jeon said.

State officials claim the Facebook checks were meant to stop gang infiltration into prisons but now the Department of Correction has launched an internal investigation telling WJZ they just suspended the process for 45 days to review their procedures.

“It’s such a welcome development to have policy suspended and hopefully it will be a permanent discontinuation of this policy,” Jeon said.

Collins hopes he gets back to work soon.

“I believe this is a first step in a positive direction, but it’s one of many required steps to repeal this thing indefinitely,” he said.

State officials would not speak on camera but in a statement, they claim giving up Facebook passwords was voluntary.  Collins says he wasn’t given an option.

Collins is scheduled to return to work later this year.

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