Monday, November 21, 2011

Court Order Trumps Facebook Privacy

It is obvious that social networking has skyrocketed over the past few years. It seems as though most everyone has at least one social webpage where they can make posts and communicate with friends. But what happens when those postings get seen by a soon to be ex-spouse amidst a divorce proceeding?

Recently a judge in New London Connecticut ordered that a divorcing couple disclose their facebook and online dating passwords to the other’s attorneys. The purpose, according to the judge, is to assist the couple’s attorneys in the discovery process. The judge did impose a restriction on this ruling prohibiting each party from viewing the other’s webpages and making postings pretending to be the other person.

This issue came up in court because the husband saw postings on his wife’s facebook page where she talked about her feelings toward him, their children and he believed the posts questioned her ability to care for their children. He believed this information could be useful in his quest to obtain full custody of their children. The wife was originally asked about her facebook password during a deposition, at which time she provided it. But then, on advice of counsel, changed it immediately after the deposition. That is where the court stepped in. This court ruling has been dubbed “court authorized hacking” and actually violates the terms and conditions set forth by facebook which states that users should never disclose their passwords

As we have said before - Even if you limit who may view certain aspects of your social media posts, and even if it is simply an e mail to a friend, once you get into court assume it is all going to be open for the other side. If you are injured and are claiming damages for limitations in your activities, if you may be facing a divorce, or if you are in anyway involved in litigation just imagine the court and the other side reading what you post and or e mail. If the other side wants to they will get a judge to force a disclosure. BE CAREFUL!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Facebook Evidence in Litigation Proceedings

In the middle of October, the Connecticut Supreme Court heard oral arguments from counsel regarding facebook photographs that were allowed as evidence. The arguments centered on the fact that these photographs should not have been introduced as evidence and, the fact that they were admitted actually violated the defendant’s constitutional rights.

The controversy began in 2004 when Alia Altajir, granddaughter of an Arab billionaire, was driving while intoxicated when she crashed and killed her best friend. Altajir was charged with manslaughter and in 2007 agreed to plea bargain to a lesser charge. However, after she was released from prison, Altajir admitted to violating her court ordered probation.

During her 2009 sentencing hearing in Litchfield Superior Court, photographs which were posted on Altajir’s facebook page were introduced. After the judge reviewed the photos, he commented that it did not appear that Altajir had any remorse after what happened. The prosecutor argued that the photos demonstrated that even after serving her jail sentence, she was not changing her lifestyle. Altajir’s attorney stated that he had advised his client to take down her facebook page, but she declined. He also argued that the photographs did not contain dates which made it impossible to determine whether the photographs were taken during Altajir’s probation.

Both attorneys admitted that this case could set new standards for when and how facebook photographs can be used in court hearings and trials. While this case addresses how social media websites can be used in a criminal case, it is obvious that it is opening the floodgates to how social media can be used in any type of litigation proceeding.