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Job applicants with the city of Bozeman, Montana are finding that their private Internet discussions and pictures may not be so private after all.

The city is asking job seekers for the user names and passwords to Internet social networking or Web groups to which they belong. The decision is sparking an outcry from those who say the policy goes way too far.

The issue has spawned hundreds of comments on Web forums and sharp criticism from legislators and the ACLU.

“I liken it to them saying they want to look at your love letters and your family photos,” said Amy Cannata, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. “I think this policy certainly crosses the privacy line.”

The city argues that it only uses the information to verify application information. City officials say such checks can be useful, especially when hiring police officers and others in a position of public trust.

Bozeman officials have been hammered with e-mails and phone calls ever since KBZK-TV of Bozeman reported the policy, including an excerpt from the city application form that states “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, MySpace, etc.”

Bozeman City Commissioner Jeff Rupp said he was unaware city officers had implemented the policy, and expects the city commission will be talking about it. But Rupp said it is not as bad as it sounds since applicants are not scored negatively for refusing to answer the question.

“I can tell you I would not provide it in an application I submit,” Commissioner Rupp said.

Bozeman City Attorney Greg Sullivan says that the city may look at changing the policy so that they could view an applicant’s social networking sites without asking for login information. One option would be to have an applicant add the city as a “friend” on such sites as Facebook.

“We’ve already began that discussion,” Sullivan said.

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