(Photo courtesy of GunsSaveLives.net)
Controversy Surrounds Pistol Permit Application Asking for Facebook Information
How much information should police ask for on your pistol permit application: your phone number? Your fingerprints? What about your Facebook password? One local police force asked for that recently, on its pistol permit application. Geoff Redick has more from Watervliet.
WATERVLIET, N.Y. — There's a reason we create private passwords for our social media accounts: the information contained therein is private.
We're often warned not to give out these passwords — but how do we react if the police ask for them? That's what appeared to have happened in Watervliet recently, where a form included in the city's pistol permit application included a blank line for applicants to fill-in "Facebook & Password."
The story broke last week, when internet blog "The Truth About Guns" posted an image of the form. A statement from the police department acknowledged the form had been included in past applications. Website publisher Robert Farago confirmed to Time Warner Cable News that he spoke by phone with Watervliet Police Chief Ronald Boisvert, about the form. The Chief is quoted on the website, saying that the form was mistakenly included in the packet, and is for internal use only.
However, Chief Boisvert is also quoted as follows: "We ask the applicant to log-on to Facebook in front of us, (to search for) pages they've looked at, friends — anything that reflects on character." The Chief later told the website that the Albany County judiciary created the Facebook password requirement.
"I'm just the middleman here," Boisvert is quoted. "It is what it is."
Time Warner Cable News attempted to question Chief Boisvert, but we were instead e-mailed a statement Tuesday evening. It reads, in part: "Social media is a vital investigative tool and we make use of it in background investigations, to render a well-founded and complete recommendation on applicants for the courts." However, the following sentence says, "None of the eight applicants who supplied Facebook information have had their accounts accessed."
Unclear whether Facebook accounts were still being used for background or not, we again reached out through the contracted public relations firm for the City of Watervliet. We were informed that Chief Boisvert would have no further comment or clarification. A visit to the mayor's office resulted in a conversation with Watervliet General Manager Mark Gleason, who said that city government would have "no comment" on the pistol permit issue.
"I think this Facebook situation, it intimidates people," said Steve Borst, manager of Target Sports in Glenville. As a veteran gun dealer in New York, Borst performs background checks on anyone who buys a firearm at his store. We appraised him of the story and the chief's statement, prior to our interview.
"The system has worked really well for many years. It hasn't been broken," said Borst. "I think it's just a bit of a violation of someone's rights to go into their Facebook account."
"The question is: how far can you go in a background check?" said legal analyst Paul DerOhannessian Wednesday. The Albany-based lawyer viewed our copy of Boisvert's statement, and agreed that it was vague. "Suppose the applicant doesn't give their password; does that disqualify them?"
DerOhannessian says the Facebook question now coming from Watervliet is part of a larger, continuing process to find boundaries for pistol permit background checks — which are currently regulated at the county level. The lawyer says the issue may someday reach the high courts, if an applicant feels their rights were violated by the application.
"And in that process the question will be: was that proper?" says DerOhannessian. "Or is it proper to deny (an application), based on someone's refusal to supply (a password)? That's what we don't know. I don't think the law is clear on that."
Through Watervliet's contracted public relations firm, Time Warner Cable News has requested an interview with Chief Boisvert, when he is available to speak on the issue.
READ WATERVLIET POLICE CHIEF RONALD BOISVERT'S FULL STATEMENT BELOW:
"In light of recent inquires made to this Department regarding a Facebook post concerning Pistol Permit Application Processing at the Watervliet Police Department, the following is provided:
'Local police agencies in New York State are charged with the important task of conducting background and character investigations of persons applying for pistol permits, a duty that we approach with the attention it deserves. Today, social media is a vital investigative tool and we make a use of it in these background investigations in order to render a well-founded and complete recommendation on applicants to the courts. None of the eight (8) applicants who supplied Facebook information have had their accounts accessed, which I know because I am the investigating officer and the only person conducting background checks. I approach this duty with the greatest respect for gun owners and their rights, a perspective that is shaped by my 9-year service in the U.S. Navy and exposure to guns at a young age through my grandfather, a well-respected gunsmith. I do not take guns, gun safety or our freedoms as Americans lightly, and as Chief of Police I have a serious job to do, and I approach it with respect.'
- Watervliet Police Chief Ronald A. Boisvert, Jr.
*The form originally posted as being included in the Pistol Permit Package has been removed and replaced with a version that does not request an applicants’ Facebook information.
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