Snooping on Social Networks to Vet Jurors and Hire Employees

While attorneys use Facebook and social media to vet jurors, some government agencies are demanding social network passwords from potential employees. Sometimes social networking comes back to bite you with privacy invasion.

Lawyers have been using social networking sites to prep for trial for several years, for everything from evidence for divorce to reasons to bounce a juror from the jury pool, but some attorneys are taking it to the next level during the vetting process. On the other hand, lawyers have run into trouble, faced ethics charges, and have been fired for what they posted on social media sites. Facebook has been used to establish alibis, reported Inside Facebook, as well ethics committees determining if an attorney and a judge may be "friends." There have even been mistrials declared over tweets and texts.

According to, jury consultants started using social networking sites like treasure troves waiting to be mined for clues about potential jurors as far back as 2006. By 2008, some jury consultants insisted it was "perfectly ethical" to use Internet research to influence jurors. Some lawyers were also using tidbits discovered on social networking sites to strike or to select a potential juror based upon point-of-views posted online. What can be discovered via social networking sites have helped lawyers discover a juror lied on a questionnaire and have influenced attorneys to include references in closing arguments that might persuade a juror's decision.

Lawyers and jury consultants investigate possible jurors, looking for clues on social networking sites about favorite TV or radio programs, high levels of tweet chatter, rants, strong opinions, religion, or who has been "friended" that could be used to disqualify or to select prospective jurors reported the Wall Street Journal.

One option an attorney is considering in order to help him further snoop into the private lives of prospective jurors was particularly interesting. Armando Villalobos, the district attorney of Cameron County, Brownsville, Texas, has considered getting around Facebook's privacy settings to read what is posted on another person's wall by giving the jury pool candidates "free access to the court's wi-fi network in exchange for temporarily 'friending' his office."

Shady or smart, it's better than Maryland Correction Agency demanding all social media passwords of potential employees. The ACLU reported that during a recertification interview for a Robert Collins, a Maryland corrections officer, the Maryland Division of Corrections (DOC) required Collins to hand over his Facebook login and password.

Collins said, "My fellow officers and I should not have to allow the government to view our personal Facebook posts and those of our friends, just to keep our jobs." Collins had his privacy settings tweaked to the max, but he was told not to change his password for a few months. So not only snooping to see what was marked private, but ongoing snooping? That's completely outrageous in my opinion. The video below is of Collins telling his story.

The ACLU sent a letter [PDF] saying the DOC requirement of obtaining the social media names and logins is an invasion of privacy and "arguably chills employee speech and due process rights protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution."

What did Maryland DOC chose to do? It totally ignored the letter for three weeks. So now the ACLU has asked us not to "allow this illegal breach of privacy to continue to go unnoticed and unaddressed. Demand that Secretary Maynard stop snooping! "

Seems like Maryland DOC should wake up and sniff the air . . . it might smell a lawsuit coming its way?

This wasn't the first time the government has asked for login details and it probably won't be the last. Techdirt reported that Bozeman, Montana, had tried in 2009 to require usernames and passwords for people who applied for jobs with the city. After a fairly good stink was made over that invasion of privacy, Bozeman changed its tune from "give it to us so our city employees can log in and check it out" to dropping as a "mistake."

While I don't even agree with lawyers and jury consultants prying into potential jurors lives via what is posted on social media sites, I definitely don't go for social networking usernames and passwords being required to get or to keep a job.

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