AN OUTCRY is erupting in the US over how judges are giving lawyers rights to plunder private emails and posts in social notworking websites.
Apparently US lawyers want to hunt for anything that might contradict what their opponents are saying in court. While you have to admire them for trying, judges in civil cases are actually letting them do it.
Defense lawyers working for insurance cases are doing well by finding snaps of people claiming to be injured or bedridden turning up quite well in Facebook snaps.
In the past judges have long allowed information gleaned from public portions of social networking sites to be used as evidence. But material that is password-protected or reserved for selected 'friends' has been off limits.
However two state courts have granted defendants broad access to "private" photos and comments. A federal court issued a similar ruling in 2009.
According to Reuters the problem is one of law. Postings on social networks are generally governed by the federal Stored Communications Act, which regulates how private information can be disseminated in non-criminal matters.
So far the law has meant that websites don't have to hand over users' personal data in response to a civil subpoenaes. But lawyers have been asking judges to order plaintiffs to sign consent forms granting defendants access to their private material. They then attach these consent forms when they subpoena the websites.
Effectively the plaintiffs are essentially authorising the sites to hand over printouts of the private portions of their pages to the defendants.
However some of that information is being used by lawyers in somewhat strange ways.
In one case a woman claimed she fell off a defective chair and suffered "serious permanent personal injuries" due to the negligence of the Michigan based furniture company Steelcase.
Steelcase lawyer James Gallagher told a judge that her MySpace postings regularly included smiley faces, suggesting that she was happy. He also snooped into the Facebook page of the woman's daughter, which, he said, included postings and photos indicating that the family had travelled to Florida, contradicting the woman's claims that she was homebound.
This made New York Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Arlen Spinner grant Gallagher's motion to compel the woman to provide access to the private portions of her Facebook and Myspace pages. µ
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