Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fired for "Friending" - Facebook Update

A U.K. prison prison guard has been terminated for gross misconduct, after a disciplinary hearing determined that his Facebook "friend list" included some unsavoury types: 

A PRISON officer has been sacked after 13 criminals, including a murderer, were discovered among friends on his Facebook page.

A photo on the social networking website showed Nathan Singh, 27, with a drugs dealer and fraudster at Cheltenham races, London's The Sun reports.

Singh was a residential landing officer in England's Leicester jail, which holds just under 400 prisoners.

...At a disciplinary hearing, the officer claimed he knew them from school or playing football. He told the hearing: “Sometimes when I logged on to my Facebook site there would be twenty-odd friends requests and I just accepted them. 

"Sometimes I didn’t even check them. I realise now it might have been naive in the job I do.” Singh was fired for gross misconduct.
Is this a case of gross misconduct or of guilt by association?  

Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve said: “Prison officers should be vetted before being offered a job, to check criminal connections. Cases like this demoralise the vast majority of dedicated prison staff.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: “A prison officer from HMP Leicester had been associating with serving and former prisoners, outside the course of his employment and without authority.

“We take inappropriate relationships with prisoners very seriously. We do carry out thorough checks when we recruit prison officers.

“The vast majority of our staff are honest, hardworking and professional.”

In corrections-related positions, the absence of "criminal connections" or the appearance thereof, may well be a stated, fundamental tenet of a contract of employment.  In such a circumstance, job sanctions may flow from maintaining an obvious, public connection with criminal figures. 

While this concept is not novel, the digital trail left by Facebook certainly adds a twist - and a significant, new bank of potential evidence in any investigation of criminal or civil misconduct.  

And like all things Facebook, your friend list could at some point become a public document, with unanticipated, adverse consequences. 

Canadian politicians have not been immune to this form of heat. Most recently, Conservative MP Peter Kent encountered a minor political storm over one of his Facebook friends, as B.C.L. reported on February 6, 2009:
I admit, I didn't think Dawg's post outlining junior foreign minister Peter Kent's facebook relationship with Meir Weinstein, aka Meir Halevi, the Canadian Director of the Jewish Defense League, would amount to a whole lot. After all, facebook friends aren't like real friends, are they? They're just a tiny little picture stuck up on your personal web-page.

Maybe I was wrong, though, because 
Now Magazine has done a brief piece on the topic:

And, more importantly, it looks as though Kent himself is concerned enough about the apparent JDL link to have "defriended" Mr. Weinstein.

So allow me to reiterate something that has become increasingly apparent as courts throughout the Western world consider the evidentiary application - and implication - of social media postings:

Facebook - and all social media - is public, not private, and should be treated that way by users.

In other words, know who your friends are.  

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

Visit our Toronto Law Firm website: www.wiselaw.net



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