Private info on Facebook increasingly used in court

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.

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