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Lawmakers regain access to Facebook

February 10, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Less than one week after two social networking Web sites were banned from Maryland General Assembly computers, lawmakers learned Tuesday they will regain access to one of them.

The Office of Information Systems will restore Facebook. Last week officials said viruses were to blame for a ban on that site, and of MySpace.

Since that announcement, Michael Gaudiello, director of information systems for the Department of Legislative Services, said his office has received almost daily criticism and requests to return access to Facebook. He said there were no requests to return access to MySpace.

Gaudiello told the joint data systems committee Tuesday during an emergency meeting to discuss the issue that he will restore Facebook access as early as Wednesday.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who has a Facebook account, said he was pleased with the decision.

"I think it's a very reasonable thing to do," he said. "I felt very strongly that Facebook is a very cost-effective and dynamic tool for many of my constituents to communicate with me."

A group even formed on Facebook protesting the decision to ban the site on General Assembly computers. Gaudiello said he was aware of the protest group.

"It's done, and they made the right call, and we'll move on and get back to business," Shank said.

Five percent of all Internet use on General Assembly computers is on Facebook, and Gaudiello said additional safeguards are now in place to protect against viruses, with the possibility of more on the way.

He told the committee Tuesday that he was unaware how the social networking site was used by lawmakers to communicate with constituents and others.

"We did not know the extent to which Facebook was used," Gaudiello said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, is a member of the committee that heard from Gaudiello Tuesday. Munson said he agreed with the decision to return access to Facebook.

And while Munson currently does not have an account with the site, he said he plans to sign up soon.

"You have to compete around here," he said during the committee meeting. "If you want to win elections, you have to compete."

Munson said he also supported additional virus protection and the right of Gaudiello's office to remove access to the site again if needed to protect General Assembly computers.

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