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Judge Demands Email and Facebook Passwords From Women In Sexual Harassment Case 218

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-wants-to-go-like-his-own-posts dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Back in September, a U.S. judge ruled that a school district violated the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) rights of a 12-year-old student by forcing her to hand over her Facebook password to school officials who in turn used it to search for messages they deemed inappropriate. This month, another U.S. judge has ordered that women suing their employer for sexual harassment must hand over cell phones, passwords to their email accounts, blogs, as well as to Facebook and other social networks."
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Judge Demands Email and Facebook Passwords From Women In Sexual Harassment Case

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  • Lets split it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by synapse7 (1075571) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:07PM (#42058581)
    I propose /. split into two sites, one featuring litigation and the other focuses on news for nerds.
  • Duh, it's evidence (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:10PM (#42058621)

    A judge is perfectly permitted to require the defense access to potentially usable evidence given probable cause that the evidence is there. School officials, on the other hand, are not judges or part of the legal system.

    Complete non-story by some muckraker. Naturally, /. posts it.

  • by v1 (525388) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:11PM (#42058633) Homepage Journal

    We'e seen a few stories recently like this, where a judge has demanded someone to turn over information that they've already agreed not to in a TOS.

    Was this ever resolved, whether a judge can order you to violate a TOS? Either it's legally binding or it's not. Not variable on who's asking or whether or not it's convenient. They need to make up their minds.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:17PM (#42058711)

    But a facebook password gives access to a whole lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the case. This would be like the Judge demanding unlimited access to your house (without your oversight) so that they could have a look at what the TV in your living room looks like. There are better, more restrictive ways that the evidence could be gathered, ways that don't expose every intimate detail of a person's private life to the courts.

  • by DrEnter (600510) * on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:21PM (#42058767)
    There is a BIG difference between a judge ordering someone to disclose their facebook password to collect evidence and a school teacher or principal doing it. Also, the person in question here is the plaintiff. The defense generally does have a lot of latitude when it comes to evidence collection. My only complaint here is that the plaintiff's sexual behavior outside of work should not be relevant or admissible, but it looks like from some of the statements that the defense is going to push to get that stuff admitted. The judge should put pretty strict criteria on what evidence may be collected and presented to the jury. We aren't really getting those details here, though.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:22PM (#42058783) Journal

    As does any kind of warrant. How is this any different than a search of a house, which will contain lots of materials that have nothing to do with the case?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:24PM (#42058803)

    >But a facebook password gives access to a whole lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the case.

    What's your point? A search warrant for a house also "gives access to a whole lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the case". Guess who's in charge of regulating what's allowed as evidence in both situations?

  • by SighKoPath (956085) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:29PM (#42058865)
    You seem to think that anything on Facebook is private. How quaint.
  • by Erioll (229536) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:30PM (#42058871)

    I echo somebody else's comment above that comparing this to a school board is disingenuous. A court order is far different than a school board going fishing.

    For this case, a court order for information from a person's web account should have a way to subpoena the information necessary without requiring disclosure of passwords. That's reasonable, just like how with a court order a suspect must provide the keys and/or open up a safe on their property if such is specified in a search warrant. It's similar. The problem comes that with some models of computer security, that information is not available without a privacy violation (giving up a password). It's quite a conundrum.

    That being said, in this case (and many others) I'm shocked that Facebook (& friends) don't have some type of "legal request mechanism" that would work as a "backdoor" for this type of thing. They can reset passwords and such, so it's hard to believe they don't have a mechanism to handle requests from legal systems for a history of posts, images, etc. The law should always require a warrant to access it if it's not publicly posted, but other than that, I'm surprised it isn't already there.

  • by kubernet3s (1954672) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:40PM (#42059015)
    These are civil suits, not criminal cases. The insidious implication of this ruling is that there is likely to be evidence in someone's Facebook or email. that pertains to a sexual harassment case, sight unseen. This ruling seems to do nothing but pave the way for "fishing expeditions," as another commenter put it, on behalf of judges, who can then go "Oh, a smiley face at the end of a WORK RELATED email, looks like you were leading him on pretty hard."

    If, on the other hand, the defense wishes to use the email records as a defense, and the plaintiff disputes the veracity of these records, I can see the judge ordering access to the records to check on their veracity. If the plaintiff fails to provide these, then toss the case out: I have no problem with that. However, requiring a priori access to a person's correspondence at the outset of a case for no reason than to provide a judge with evidence outside the context of the court seems downright unconscionable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:47PM (#42059083)

    I don't disagree that all pertinent evidence should be gathered to prove or disprove a case, but the correct course of action here is for the judge to issue a warrant to the respective carriers/sites for the necessary information. Asking for someones passwords for evidence is like asking for someone's ATM PIN code to get their financial records.

    A warrant? On what grounds? She didn't commit a crime. This is part of discovery for her lawsuit. If she doesn't want to provide the evidence she can drop her case. There's no reason to force anyone to do anything. Certainly no reason to drag a third party into it. It's her case. Her choice. Give up the evidence or drop the case.

  • by Safety Cap (253500) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:50PM (#42059127) Homepage Journal

    Go ahead and post your social security number.

    And your mother's maden name

    And your date of birth

    You have nothing to hide? Prove it.

  • by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @03:56PM (#42059205)

    I'm shocked that Facebook (& friends) don't have some type of "legal request mechanism" that would work as a "backdoor" for this type of thing. They can reset passwords and such, so it's hard to believe they don't have a mechanism to handle requests from legal systems for a history of posts, images, etc.

    You shouldn't be shocked; they do, of course, have such a mechanism. You might be shocked that in this case it wasn't used.

  • by Old97 (1341297) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:10PM (#42059381)
    Excuse me? It is the judge who rule what is or is not admissible, not the plaintiff or the defense. You mentioned an exception "Unless the Facebook contains the phrase ..." - an admission that it is possible that relevant evidence is there to be found. So how are we to know whether her Facebook page does nor does not contain that phrase? How are we to know whether or not she has posted comments about her love for this supervisor or bragged about her sex life with him or whatever? Who should determine whether or not there is something admissible and relevant if not the judge? Certainly not the plaintiff. False allegations are made all the time. The defense has the right to demand all relevant evidence that may help it. Its the duty of the judge to be fair to both.
  • by cdrudge (68377) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:19PM (#42059463) Homepage

    Such as wearing a shirt with CUNT printed on it, then complaining for being called one after you labelled yourself.

    My wife calls me sexy. I don't want my boss calling me sexy. I might call my wife a fucking bitch while playing a game if she makes a move that blocks. Her boss calling her a fucking bitch would be inappropriate in a professional office environment.

    The plaintiff may have been at a bachelorette party where friends put the shirt on her or she was otherwise having a good time and went along with it. That doesn't mean it was appropriate, right, or that she appreciated her boss calling her that or saying that to her.

    Context is very key and context can not be fully determined just from a picture. And even if it could, it still doesn't mean that the boss didn't sexually harass her or other plaintiffs.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:41PM (#42059685) Homepage

    Oh no. The Plaintiff is making claims. The defendant needs to be able to defend themselves against accusations. If there were rights to lean in favor of one party over the other, I would hope it would favor the defense.

    It is obvious in cases such as sexual harassment, the first defense is "s/he no reasonable cause to be offended over language or to feel harassed given the type of language she uses on a frequent basis." I recall one particular female who used to work where I work now... she was pretty rowdy with her language and behavior. But from time to time when it was convenient, she would begin to make noises about harassment. In her case, she had no reasonable cause to be offended given her behavior. I was glad to see her go. She really upset a lot of people.

    You are making the classic assumption that because she is a 'she' that she is a victim and is completely honest about her claims.... you know, like a particular single mother with a single child collecting child support from three men in three states.

  • by jythie (914043) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @04:44PM (#42059731)
    I RTFA too, and while I can see the argument for it, much of it reads like they are hoping to show she is an immoral person.. essentially trying to slut shame her into the harassment being fine.
  • by sexconker (1179573) on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @05:08PM (#42059931)

    I fail to see how a subpoena to Facebook and her mail provider couldn't accomplish the same thing without having to give out passwords.

    Because it involves a third party and makes thing even more complicated than it should be. It is a waste of time and could be money (process fees). The plaintiff is the one who wants to use it for the suit, why not simply give the real sources. Over complicate a process often times is not a good solution but cost more on both time and money.

    The DEFENDANT is the one that wants the info. They're claiming that on the internets you can find the plaintiffs:

    Wearing a shirt with the word CUNT on it (one plaintiff claims the word cunt was used around her or in reference to her, and that that offends her and she needs lots of money for it)
    Discussing their financial situation after being fired
    Discussing their job prospects after being fired
    Discussing their interactions with the defendants
    Discussing the suit in general

    Passwords must be given (just change it to something random and hand it to the court) so the court can appoint a reviewer to select which info is pertinent to the case. The reviewer then hands it off to the owner of the account (the plaintiffs) and they block/redact any info they say is private or unrelated. The reviewer then presents the evidence to the court (both plaintiff and defendant) and tells the judge if he thinks the owner of the account chose to block / redact any pertinent information.

  • Re:Lets split it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 21, 2012 @05:19PM (#42060053)

    The crap legal stories that Slashdot runs are not news. The submitters, editors, and commenters don't know anything about law, so dozens of cases that are just ordinary applications of long-standing rules about evidence, procedure, etc., are published, usually with an absurdly over-dramatic leading question in the summary.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday November 22, 2012 @02:17AM (#42064125) Journal

    A shirt with the word "CUNT" on it clearly has no bearing

    It does when you're suing someone over them calling you a cunt...

"The vast majority of successful major crimes against property are perpetrated by individuals abusing positions of trust." -- Lawrence Dalzell

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