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Facebook Private Info Increasingly Used In Court 270

Orome1 writes "Making the content of your Facebook account private can thwart the social network's plan to share as much information as 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 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."
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Facebook Private Info Increasingly Used In Court

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  • "it seems that only lately they have begun to be successful in their attempts"

    All they needed to do was write a simple and silly app which requires all your user data and BAM, you have everything. You won't even need a court order for it.

    • All they needed to do was write a simple and silly app which requires all your user data and BAM, you have everything. You won't even need a court order for it.

      But if the data is gathered under false pretenses by a law enforcement professional then it is theoretically inadmissible in court (although this has been tampered with of late, don't assume anything!)

  • A few weeks ago, after finding out that some big economic and political heavyweights invested in Facebook, I decided to cancel my account. Two weeks after I filed the request, I finally no longer have it. It seems to me that Facebook itself rose to prominence after MySpace became overpopulated and polluted with spam. It was a good social network for educational sources, but now -- it has become conglomerate of something that it does not even deserve to be. Facebook has become too mainstream, its login servi
    • well, you could try diaspora, it's basically functional. but nobody is on it, so the only way to really gain traction is to convince whole groups to use it.

      • Or Appleseed. Hopefully they'll agree on some protocols (even if they implement others too) so that they can federate.

        Personally, I've installed StatusNet (Twitter-like) on my host and have been federating seamlessly with

    • Make your own website. Of course, that might be too much like work and you'll have a little harder time getting people to visit it (unless it's interesting). I have always regarded social networking sites (FB, MS, Linkedin, etc) to be little more than HTML for people without HTML abilities. Sure, you can go one place and access 500,000 people, but when all those people are doing is basically a great big attentionwhorefest, what's the point?

      Oh yeah, Farmville. *groan*

  • The crap people say about themselves online is ridiculous.

    People without sense to moderate themselves will no doubt end up paying for it one way or the other. Talk about your hard partying lifestyle all the time and get a divorce, or charged with drunk driving, or dismissed from a job... good luck keeping that to yourself at that point

    • Why shouldn't it?

      For the same reason that taking stuff from your house is still illegal even if you leave your door unlocked.

      Yes, people should be more careful, but that doesn't excuse such intrusions.

      • Why shouldn't it?

        For the same reason that taking stuff from your house is still illegal even if you leave your door unlocked.

        Yes, people should be more careful, but that doesn't excuse such intrusions.

        It's not an intrusion if its up there where any one of your 3000 "friends" can drop a dime on your activity - perfectly legally and without any repercussion.

        It's the people who aren't weary of any concerns they should have that I am talking about - not the person who only has meatspace "friends" and has had their data maliciously intercepted by lawyers.

        • Since they are requesting the data directly to Facebook by asking the judge to make the plaintiffs sign a consent form, the amount and type of "friends" is irrelevant.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:33PM (#35080258)

      The crap people say about themselves online is ridiculous.

      People without sense to moderate themselves will no doubt end up paying for it one way or the other. Talk about your hard partying lifestyle all the time and get a divorce, or charged with drunk driving, or dismissed from a job... good luck keeping that to yourself at that point

      Hell yeah. Fuck those party people. How dare they live a life that is not perfectly whitewashed and 100% compatible with a Puritannical lifestyle. They deserve to suffer for that! They deserve to suffer even when they acted like responsible adults and only had their fun when they knew it would not interfere with any of their obligations or responsibilities. The nerve of those people, doing things with their own lives that maybe I wouldn't do with my own life.

      I've decided that this offends me, and as we all know, that gives me the right to demand that they either change their ways or suffer. After all, the person who takes offense is never the one who needs to change, no, not even when they actively sought out the things which offend them. Having cleared that up... get a divorce you say? Clearly anyone who would ever want privacy from the outside world for any reason didn't deserve to be married. Charged with drunk driving? They obviously had no business having a license in the first place. Dismissed from a job? Well then, no matter the quantity or quality of their work, no matter how professional they were, no matter how well they separated their private life from their work life, they are clearly riff-raff and it's an excellent business decision to get rid of them. Fools.

      In fact, I think everyone needs to have their every waking moment scrutinized and archived by strangers. That'll teach them to be perfect and above reproach and nothing could possibly go wrong. Maybe the 1984 style telescreens can be handy for this.

      The crap people say about themselves online is not really so different from what they say offline. It's just that when they say such things offline, in person, they usually aren't recording and broadcasting their speech. Now that they are using a medium that both records and makes available ... well, now the vultures swoop down to see if they can find anyone who's out of line. It's the same lovers of gossip who have always existed, just on a newer medium. Like that Sublime lyric, "insufferable informer crazy fools, wait with their fingers crossed for you to break the rules."

      Otherwise people have always been a little deviant. It's just that they used to understand discretion.

      • After all, the person who takes offense is never the one who needs to change, no, not even when they actively sought out the things which offend them.

        Best post this year.

      • I never said any of those activities offended me personally. Only that they risk other people making character judgments against them.

        You seem an open minded sort - tell me this:

        Is there anything someone could do (even though you've clearly seen/done it all) that would offend you? I doubt your answer is "no"

        Given that you acknowledge you can be offended, who are you to say what will or will not offend someone else, say a jury member or a judge who has been put in a position to decide your fate based on

      • way, way overreacted to parent. Original comment did not say do not party, only implied it is unwise to boast and post pictures of it online.
    • Here's the real question: Why would any judge allow anything from a website that isn't provably from the person it claims to be from?

      It's trivial for Lawyer X to set up an account purporting to be Claimant X. He could then say all sorts of things about how fun it's going to be to defraud Company X, or how Claimant X loves to get stoned, or whatever. Even vacation photos can be lifted from some other site, like flickr, and the EXIF data can be changed to make it look like the claimant was enjoying a nice vac

  • Isn't this similar, if not identical, to this story [] from a few days ago?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @11:54AM (#35079916)

    Facebook has always honored valid subpoenas, and lawyers have always been able to get them for this kind of info.
    It's more that only now have lawyers started to catch up to the idea that it's a good source of info.

    Look at the history of presentations at lawyer conferences, and you will see in the past year or so talks on what info you can gain from social network accounts, and e-discovery type stuff have started happening more and more.

    So basically, it was just because lawyers are generally close to grandparents when it comes to the technology knowledge curve

  • by zach_the_lizard ( 1317619 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @11:55AM (#35079920)

    I don't think this is surprising. I would have figured a court order would make Facebook give up your data to the court.

  • by LaminatorX ( 410794 ) <sabotage&praecantator,com> on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @11:57AM (#35079934) Homepage

    Subpoenas for all sorts of physical records and correspondence are par for the course. How is this any different than a subpoena for your diary or letters?

    • Are the lawyers mining this data and then asking the court for permission? That seems wrong.
      Or are they asking the courts for permission first? That seems completely acceptable.
      • by kevinNCSU ( 1531307 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:25PM (#35080194)
        The latter. This story is about defense lawyers asking for a subpoena from a judge during civil cases to prove the plaintiffs are lying or exaggerating.
    • TFA ends:

      So defense lawyers came up with the following solution: they ask the judges to make the plaintiffs to 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.

      Why are judges issueing subpeonas merely off a plaintiffs signature? That's what I'd like to know. This seems likely overturned on appeal, except IANAL.

    • The internet makes it different: the volume of data; data retention; timestamps and IP/location info; the unique kinds of info (ex. a rating/score given).

      I don't understand why everyone is so quick to defend the government on this (do you hate Facebook that much?). 30 years ago people argued politics with their neighbors and none of it was recorded, or retained, or came with timestamps, or was digitally exact (unlike the neighbors faulty memory). Why should we decide that anything on the web is no more p
  • by Vernes ( 720223 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @11:58AM (#35079948) his Facebook profile, my client clearly states that his shlong is 20 inch long and always ready for action. This would make it impossible to be the person seen, and I quote: "running away from the heist carrying the stolen device". His anatomy would not allow rapid locomotion as witnessed, your Honour.
  • by davev2.0 ( 1873518 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @11:58AM (#35079952)
    When one is involved in a court case, there is discovery where each party is allowed to investigate and examine the other party, including the other party's private documents such as diaries, for evidence. The court can issue a subpoena for said private documents. Facebook and other social networking sites fall under "private documents".

    I have no idea why everyone is surprised at this. It has been like this literally for centuries.
    • So what if instead of posting her vacation pictures to Facebook, she had them in a shoebox and showed them to a friend. Would that be discoverable?

  • You would think that at least some of the smarter criminals would know by now that nothing that you put on Facebook is even remotely private. Even if you spent the time restricting all of your posts, photos, and comments so only your friends would see them, all it takes is for one of your friends to click on a rogue poll or Facebook application for them to pull a bunch of your so-called "personal" information through them. Not to mention that they're constantly changing the settings and adding new services

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      Who said anything about crooks- that's just the tip of the iceberg there.

      Open your mouth in the wrong way anywhere on the 'net and you could be facing the consequences of that act down the line. As an object lesson...I offer myself. I "opened my mouth" about a patent troll I used to work for on THIS forum about some of their activities in anger because of the nature of the company's laying people off and how it all could've been avoided. As a result, several years later I got the angry remarks flung back

    • Heh, just like my 12 year old who defriended us, but doesn't realize we can still read all the stuff he posts by going to his wall. I will never show him how to hide his posts and only make it available to friends. My intel is too good right now.

  • by kaptink ( 699820 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:08PM (#35080028) Homepage

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that anything you put on facebook is factual or true. Its not like your facebook page is a legal declaration of the truth. You could I assume argue that whatever they find or claim was just made up. As long as you don’t claim to not know someone in your friend list that you added yourself. I don’t think you can tell who added who anyway.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      True but the fact that you said it is a fact. Think of it with facebook out of the picture.
      Q. Mr. Kaptink did say that you where going to buy a gun and shook Mr. Jones in the head?
      A. Yes but I was just kidding.
      Of course when they find Mr. Jones with a bullet hole in his head that looks very damming.

      Same thing if you are are on probation for DUI and they find a picture of you in a car with a beer in your hand on face book dated the day before your hearing.
      Yea it could be a fake but....
      Really people guess wha

    • The things that courts will be interested in are not necessarily the the profile information or the friend list as a whole. They will be more interested in your activity. Whose wall do you post on frequently? Who have you been chatting with, and what about? If you use any location based services with a tie in to facebook, they can tell where you were or weren't at a given time. While you may be able to create some misleading information by having fake conversations and have other people use your accoun
  • Why should Facebook files be treated any differently than any other document? Is Zuckerman your doctor or lawyer or priest, to be given special privileges with respect to discovery? You can subpoena your opponent's private emails. Why should they not be able to subpoena your facebook files?

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      For the same reason that we make laws to protect mentally handicapped people. The average facebook user is so dim that honestly, she needs protection from herself.
  • by joeszilagyi ( 635484 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:09PM (#35080042)

    Posting unencrypted data on 3rd party corporate services exposes them to legal requirements! We never saw that coming!

  • All of my information on Facebook, and much of the info my family and friends have on there is fake. They don't even know my real birthday, where I live, or my gender. 99% of the stuff I post on there is fake as well. What will the lawyers do, when the info they get from FB contradicts the other documented info?
  • In other words, if you are trying to swindle an insurance company, don't brag about it.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:18PM (#35080116) Journal
    Users of Facebook are not its customers, they are its product. FB sells data about them to advertisers. So once a court order/subpoena has been received, it will act to limit damage to itself. That means full compliance and cooperation with the suing attorney. "Here are the keys, look as much as you want, Copy anything, don't bother us" would be its response.

    But now a days there are so many companies providing host space, offline storage and backup, on line collaboration tools, even project planning tools on line. Many small businesses are using google cloud or microsoft office live cloud services. Now if some such small company is sued, and the lawyers ask for all documents saved in Microsoft Office Live servers with a proper subpoena would MS refuse? Would MS try to limit the discovery process to relevant documents? Would they do everything in the best interest of the defendant or in the best interest of the hosting company alone?

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      And here's why I think the "Cloud" is a stupid thing for people and businesses to utilize.

      Google's little video about ChromeOS machines not withstanding, are the "features" they use to entice you to use it worth having the possibility of someone getting access to your info through a fishing expidition? I can assure you, Google's not going to push back on a subpoena unless it's so egregious that they can't do anything else- and it'd be doing no evil for them to fork stuff over on a lawyer's fishing expediti

  • is being cautioned here. If you claim your back was hurt in a slip n fall accident and you show recent pictures of yourself skiing or running a marathon on FB you may have an issue. I'd be more afraid of stalkers, identity thieves, scammers, and the like getting your data.
  • by goffster ( 1104287 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @12:22PM (#35080158)

    My mom is a family law attorney and uses facebook to consistently tear down
    the defenses of liars on the witness stand.

    • What if the Facebook postings supported the truth? Would she use those on the witness stand then? That's totally fucked-up dude.
      • If someone says one thing on Facebook, and another thing on court, then they are lying.
        We simply don't know which. Usually, you can figure it out.

  • IANAL, but if emails are discoverable (and they are) I don't see why Facebook posts wouldn't be either.

  • Never put anything is writing your don't want somebody else's lawyer holding up in court.

  • then it's not private, I don't care what you think your "privacy" settings are keeping secret from other people.
  • Keep it simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pat_trick ( 218868 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @01:15PM (#35080700)

    Don't get a facebook account. I don't have one and never intend to.

    • I understand what you are saying but it can be helpful. In my example I need to get military clearance. I have to list every placed I have ever lived and a reference for each place. If it weren't for face book I would have no clue how to contact a lot of these people from many years ago.

      But I don't post, don't have my real pic up, locked it down from people seeing anything and just use it to remain in touch.
  • ...that I should avoid Facebook to make it easier for me to lie under oath? What exactly is the motivation here? It's not exactly new to have private information be used as evidence in a court of law.

  • Private information is always used in court. Facebook is not special.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!