Bozeman, MT rescinds social networking profile policy

NewWest.net posted an article last week indicating the city of Bozeman, Montana’s policy of requiring social networking profile passwords from prospective hires.

According to KBZK, the local news station, which said it was tipped to the requirement by an anonymous source, city attorney Greg Sullivan said this was required to ensure employees will protect the public trust. He also added that no applicant had removed their name from consideration due to the requirement.

“In order for us to get access to the chosen candidate’s information, we need to be able to view their page,” Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the interview. “And so that’s the way we’ve chosen to go about doing it. As far as we know, there’s no other way to get into their specific Face book [sic] page.”

But a day after that article was posted, the City of Bozeman — learning first-hand how fast word can travel on the social web — the city posted this press release (PDF) rescinding the policy:

The City of Bozeman believes we have a responsibility to ensure candidates hired for positions of public trust are subject to a thorough background check. The extent of our request for a candidate’s password, user name, or other internet information 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.

Effective at 12:00 p.m. today, Friday June 19, 2009, the City of Bozeman permanently ceased the practice of requesting candidates selected for City positions under a provisional job offer to provide user names and passwords for the candidate’s internet sites.

In addition, until further notice, the City will suspend its practice of reviewing candidate’s password protected internet information until the City conducts a more comprehensive evaluation of the practice.

Since the initial media inquiries, the City of Bozeman has been reviewing the practice of requesting user names and passwords to access a candidate’s internet sites.

Whether they learned a lesson here or not remains to be seen, but it’s clear from this snafu that more organizations and people are going to need to learn more about social media to operate in a world that’s increasingly blurring the lines in ways we never have before.