ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We don't know how common the experience of Robert Collins was but in the age of social media, perhaps it was inevitable. Mr. Collins was a corrections officer in Maryland. He took a leave of absence after his mother died, and then reapplied for his job. And he had to go through a security interview.
During the interview, Mr. Collins was asked a question that he had never been asked before during the process. He was asked for his Facebook username and password. Robert Collins joins us from Towson, Maryland. Welcome to the program.
ROBERT COLLINS: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: And tell me, when you were asked for your username and password, what did you do, and how did you feel?
COLLINS: I was shocked. I was mortified when they asked me for my username and password. So he asked me for the username and password, and then he began to log onto the account. So as he continued to do what he did, I was asking him what he was looking for and what he was doing. Well, he said he was going through my messages, my wall, and my friends list and my pictures to make sure that I was not gang-affiliated.
But I felt violated; I felt disrespected. I felt that my privacy was invaded but not only my privacy, the privacy of my friends and that of my family, that didn't ask for that.
SIEGEL: And in fact you were rehired by the state, but you've since left the job to go back to school.
COLLINS: Yes, I have.
SIEGEL: Here's a rationale that I've read for employers asking for passwords and usernames: For a security job, you expect people to question your neighbors or your friends, but your friends online may really know a lot more about you than some person who lives down the block. And things we're accustomed to in theory are invasions of our privacy - this is just a more effective way of finding out about it.
COLLINS: Well, that is true. While at the same time, the problem lies in the fact that social media integrates in it private communications. If I inbox someone a message, that's no less secure than me sending someone a letter by way of postal service. It's a federal crime for someone to open your mail without your permission. I personally do not feel as if this is any different.
SIEGEL: But isn't there a real problem here - which is that millions of people put a tremendous amount of information out on the Web, through social media. And inevitably, whatever we enter in these things, it's private in a very different way from our correspondence or our phone calls, or any past kind of communication was private.
COLLINS: Well, I understand what you're saying. Some people don't self-censor. And in not self-censoring, they do put information out there that might show them engaged in illegal activity. By some way, you know, that information were to become to public, it's fair game. What my contention is, is if I'm not hurting anyone, if my friends are not hurting anyone, we're attempting to encourage one another, you know, and engage, you know, in a peaceful discourse, that information should not be used against me.
SIEGEL: Would you concede that if the job interview, or the security interview, in question were not at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services but say, at the National Security Agency, at the FBI - that at some level of security screen, it's fair game to say hey, you want a job here; you tell absolutely all.
COLLINS: No. Flat out, unequivocally no.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
COLLINS: I don't believe - I mean, it's no different than me saying OK, I want to come into your home and install cameras, to see what you're doing on an everyday basis. It's just unreasonable.
SIEGEL: Mr. Collins, thank you very much for talking with us today.
COLLINS: Thank you very much for having me.
SIEGEL: That's Robert Collins, a former corrections officer in the state of Maryland who, in his security interview, was asked for his Facebook username and password. There's a bill in Maryland to make that illegal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.