As part of the application process, these departments want potential employees to share their passwords, as well as the identities they use on sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter, according to an article in Friday's USA Today. In addition, some agencies demand text messages and email logs.
"I'm very uneasy about this," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told the newspaper. "Where does it all stop?"
Whether they dig deep into candidates' online footprint or not, some police departments are dealing with officers' social media actions, according to a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), which surveyed 728 agencies during its annual meeting, held in Orlando last month. In fact, 31.7% of respondents had dealt with negative attention related to the use of social media by agency employees, on- or off-duty, the study found; 62.3% had not, while 6% did not know.
This promises to become a bigger challenge as law enforcement use of social media increases. Today, only 43.6% of those surveyed use social media, 38.4% do not yet have the technology, and 18% of respondents did not know if their agencies were using these sites, according to the IACP study. At a time when budgets are generally constrained, social media training is minimal: A mere 14.8% of those polled provide officers with policy training on how to use this tool, on- and off-duty, the survey determined.
Police chiefs are concerned that defense lawyers could use police officers' online posts to undermine their credibility, USA Today said. One Middletown, N.J., candidate was disqualified after his social media site showed him posing with scantily clad women, Police Chief Robert Oches said. One Malden, Mass., recruit's text messages showed a history of suicide threats, Police Chief Jim Holland said.
"As more and more people join these networks, their activities on these sites become an intrinsic part of any background check we do," David Crawford, police chief in Laurel, Md., told USA Today. "If you post something on Facebook, it should be something you wouldn't mind seeing in the [newspaper]."