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Private info on Facebook increasingly used in court

  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Making the content of your Facebook account private can thwart the social network's plan to share as much information possible with advertisers, but may not keep out lawyers looking for material that will contradict your statements in a court of law.

    US lawyers have been trying to gain the permission to access the private parts of social network accounts for a while now, but it seems that only lately they have begun to be successful in their attempts. And this turn of events is another perfectly good reason to think twice about what you post online.

    Judges in civil cases are especially likely to be amenable to such requests, particularly when it comes to personal injury cases. Reuters' Brian Grow reports about two such cases that have recently been presented in state courts and during which lawyers asked and were granted access to the private zones of online profiles.

    In the first one, the lawyer used photos and comments made by a racecar driver that was suing the owners of a local track to prove that the injury he sustained on that track didn't, in fact, kill his "enjoyment of life". Smiling photos taken during trips after the aforementioned accident and various online comments made by the racecar driver could may well affect the outcome of that trial.

    In the second case, a woman sued a furniture company after she fell off what she claims to have bee a defective chair. She accuses the company of negligence that resulted in "serious permanent personal injuries". Comments including smiley faces and photos taken on a Florida trip appear to contradict her claims and statements declaring her homebound because of the accident.

    In a third case that goes all the way back to 2009, a federal court judge allowed the defense lawyer access to private online comments of two repairmen that sued Wal-Mart over an electrical accident in one of its store.

    And usually, this is the kind of information that social networks must be subpoenaed for but the federal Stored Communications Act allows them to refuse access if it's not a criminal case.

    So defense lawyers came up with the following solution: they ask the judges to make the plaintiffs sign a consent form, which is then added to the subpoena sent to the sites in question, who then have no reason not to comply with the request.

    Zeljka Zorz
    Posted on 02 February 2011.


    Comment while not directly drug related news- the implications of this certainly apply to many users here...


  1. Synesthesiac
    Im very interested in this topic, it seems to me that the only thing that facebook is prepared to do it to grant lawyers access to users who have made a conscious decision to make a lot of their data fully private. I dont think i've found a case of facebook actually supplying law enforcement with things that may be stored on their server system, like users chat history (which is cleared each time the user logs in and out) or private messages that the user deletes from their inbox and email. Is this the case?
  2. Alfa
    You can be fairly sure that faceook does not really clear chat history or PM history.
  3. Terrapinzflyer
    I really have not followed it that closely as I don't use facebook. I can remember facebook being mentioned in relation to "cyber bullying" cases so that might be a place to start looking.

    In terms of lawyers getting access seems the RIAA (recording industry association of america) and Sony? (one of the gaming console manufacturers going after "modders" ) have been going after twitter/facebook data. Libe/defamation cases also seem a hot issue.

    Searching for the tool "Firesheep" will give one an idea about how facebook lacks even basic security measures.

    And while veering off-topic here, people should realize facebook has become a major tool for hackers- all to often the info needed to reset email passwords can be found on ones facebook account. (common security questions (city of birth, highschool, street one grew up on, first car, favorite book/author etc). Facebook also often provides many details (real life info as well as friends from the online world) that makes it much easier to track ones online identities.
  4. Synesthesiac
    I guessed as much, but would they have to tell a lawyer who was asking for information this? So could they get access to their ENTIRE chat history they have ever had with anyone, plus all their deleted messages, etc?
  5. Terrapinzflyer
    In the US and, per my understanding, much of Europe, ISP's and Telco's are usually required to keep all data for a 1 year period. I am unclear if Facebook themselves would fall under these data retention laws or not. (but I'd be willing to bet that at best they are unsure themselves, and would err on the side of caution). Also- data is their bread and butter so I would bet they are unlikely to destroy any data as it may prove profitable...
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