Friday, November 18, 2011

Facebook & the Courts

Facebook: Monitoring Juror Social Media Networking Sites; “Friending” Employees of Adverse Parties (ABA Journal, Nov 2011) - You are representing a client in a personal injury matter. During pre trial voir dire proceedings and during the trial itself, can you search for and monitor jurors’ and potential jurors’ Twitter accounts and social network Internet postings? What are your obligations should you uncover evidence of juror misconduct? You represent a client in a wrongful discharge matter against the client’s former employer. You have reason to believe that certain high-level employees of the employer are dissatisfied and may be likely to post unfavorable comments about the employer on their private social networking pages. Can you send a “friend” request to these employees to gain access to their private social media pages? Since the publication of the last Eye on Ethics column on Facebook, November of 2010, “Facebook: State Bar Opinions Address Information Gathering,” there have been some new state bar opinions that have addressed various issues that relate to social networking. The topics covered include monitoring jurors’ social network and Internet postings, and whether a lawyer can “friend” high-level employees of an adverse represented party. [Editor: usefully parses recent NY County Opinion, and another by the San Diego County Bar.]

Case of Fake Facebook Profile Can Proceed, Judge Rules (Law.com, 3 Nov 2011) - A woman accused of impersonating her boyfriend on a fake Facebook page and posting inflammatory comments can be prosecuted for identity theft, a judge ruled Wednesday in a case that could have wider implications for cyber-speech. Dana Thornton was indicted last year on one count of fourth-degree identity theft, a crime punishable by a maximum 18-month prison term upon conviction. Assistant Prosecutor Robert Schwartz said she created the Facebook page using photos and personal information about her ex-boyfriend, a police detective in northern New Jersey, and posted comments purported to be from him. According to grand jury testimony recited in court Wednesday, among the comments posted on the page were that the ex-boyfriend, a narcotics detective, was “high all the time,” had herpes and frequented prostitutes and escort services. At issue is a New Jersey law that makes it illegal to impersonate someone “for the purpose of obtaining a benefit for himself or another or to injure or defraud another.” Bradley Shear, a Bethesda, Md., lawyer who works on online issues, said he expects to see more cases like this one in the near future. The New Jersey case could be a difficult prosecution, he said, because of the way the state’s law is written. “This specific situation sounds like it may be better handled in civil rather than criminal court,” he said. “It’s very tough to say this is a violation of the law.” It is, however, a violation of Facebook’s terms of service, he said. So far, only California and New York have laws specifically banning online identity theft. Shear said those states are leading the way largely because of the large number of celebrities who live in them. But he said such laws can get tricky to enforce because it’s legally thorny when the alleged offender is out of state.

Judge Orders Exchange of Facebook and Dating Website Passwords in Custody Fight (ABA Journal, 8 Nov 2011) - A Connecticut judge has ordered lawyers representing a divorcing couple to exchange passwords to their clients’ Facebook and dating websites. Judge Kenneth Schluger ordered the password exchange in the divorce of Stephen and Courtney Gallion, according to the Forbes blog The Not-So Private Parts. The judge cautioned in a Sept. 30 order that the exchange should be carried out by the lawyers, and neither spouse may post messages purporting to be the other. Stephen Gallion’s lawyer, Gary Traystman, told the blog his client believes the social networking accounts will provide evidence about Courtney Gallion’s ability to take care of their children. Stephen Gallion is arguing for full custody. According to the story, other judges have issued similar orders. “In ‘normal’ discovery, a litigant is usually asked to turn over ‘responsive material,’ not the keys to access all that material and more,” the story says, “but it seems that judges are applying different standards to social networking accounts.”

Why Parents Help Their Children Lie to Facebook About Age: Unintended Consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act’ (Berkman’s community members danah boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz, and John Palfrey; 1 Nov 2011) - Facebook, like many communication services and social media sites, uses its Terms of Service (ToS) to forbid children under the age of 13 from creating an account. Such prohibitions are not uncommon in response to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which seeks to empower parents by requiring commercial Web site operators to obtain parental consent before collecting data from children under 13. Given economic costs, social concerns, and technical issues, most general–purpose sites opt to restrict underage access through their ToS. Yet in spite of such restrictions, research suggests that millions of underage users circumvent this rule and sign up for accounts on Facebook. Given strong evidence of parental concern about children’s online activity, this raises questions of whether or not parents understand ToS restrictions for children, how they view children’s practices of circumventing age restrictions, and how they feel about children’s access being regulated. In this paper, we provide survey data that show that many parents know that their underage children are on Facebook in violation of the site’s restrictions and that they are often complicit in helping their children join the site. Our data suggest that, by creating a context in which companies choose to restrict access to children, COPPA inadvertently undermines parents’ ability to make choices and protect their children’s data. Our data have significant implications for policy–makers, particularly in light of ongoing discussions surrounding COPPA and other age–based privacy laws.

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