HELENA, Montana – A flood of criticism has prompted a Montana city to drop its request that government job applicants turn over their user names and passwords to Internet social networking and Web groups.
The city of Bozeman abruptly suspended the practice Friday, saying it "appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community."
"We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the City of Bozeman," City Manager Chris A. Kukulski said in a release.
Since KBZK-TV of Bozeman reported on the policy Wednesday, Web forums have been abuzz over the issue. The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana immediately questioned the legality of the policy.
"I liken it to them saying they want to look at your love letters and your family photos," said Amy Cannata of the Montana ACLU. "I think this policy certainly crosses the privacy line."
The city initially argued that it only used the information to verify application information. People who refused to provide the information wouldn't be penalized, the city said.
An excerpt from the city application form said, "Please list any and all current personal or business Web sites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc."
Rep. Brady Wiseman, a Bozeman Democrat, led the state's fight against the Patriot Act when the Legislature issued a harsh critique of the federal act, arguing it trampled civil liberties and put the government into a position of snooping on citizens.
Wiseman said Bozeman had gone too far.
"Asking for passwords is over the line," Wiseman said. "I think that this notion opens up a whole new line of debate on privacy."
The ACLU has not found another government body that asks for such information, Cannata said.
"It's one thing, and I think totally reasonable, if someone has a public profile to go check it out," she said.
But private groups and profile could reveal information employers could not legally base hiring decisions on, such as a person's religion, she added.