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Facebook Powerless on Privacy says New York Supreme Court Decision

facebook.jpgOn April 4, 2017, the New York Supreme Court affirmed that law enforcement officials don't need to warn users or get permission to snoop through their private Facebook activity. It doesn't matter whether the information was posted to "friends of friends," "friends" or "only me." By admission in Facebook's own community guidelines and more recently by order of the court, the social media corporation remains powerless to stop invasion of users' privacy. 

Former notions about post privacy are proving erroneous. In fact, one-to-one IMs, non-public photos, status updates and wall messages can all be introduced as evidence to deny benefits or a payout. All user activity, current and historical, deleted or archived are all free-game, too.

The Players

Claims accepted by a personal injury lawyer can involve Goliath opponents. International insurance companies, corporations and governments hire private investigators to dig up anything they can to demonstrate their position. It's nothing new. Personal injury lawyers have over the years consistently warned people to avoid posting day-to-day activities and personal and case information on social media after they have been hurt in an accident or while making a claim for sick benefits.

The Facebook Case Timeline

2013

  • Manhattan, NY District Attorney obtained search warrants on 381 claimants allegedly involved in a disability-benefits scam.
  • Many disability benefit recipients, without the advice of a personal injury lawyer, posted photos of themselves sport fishing, jet-skiing, and other physical activities to friends on Facebook. Although these photos were not set to "public," law enforcement officials gained access.
  • Subsequent warrants directed Facebook to hand over to the courts the target account-holder's profile, contact, financial, historical log-ins and account information. Included were groups they belonged to, photos and videos posted, and non-public and private instant messages.
  • While these details were gathered, Facebook was prohibited from notifying subscribers of the existence or execution of the warrants.

2015

  • New York lower courts granted Facebook leave to appeal the sealed warrants. Facebook immediately appealed to the New York Appellate courts.
  • In a 5-1 decision the Appellate Court avoided making a decision, denied Facebook's application for a stay, and handed it off to the New York Supreme Court to decide. The Appellate Court's reasoning was that Facebook itself could not contest the warrants and that only users have the right to challenge warrants in criminal proceedings.
  • It was affirmed that Facebook was not to warn users about the disclosure. Facebook was given leave to appeal.
  • Facebook complied and handed the account information over. As a result of this and other investigations, over 100 individuals were convicted.

2017 - Facebook brought an appeal before the New York Supreme Court. On April 3, 2017 he court upheld the lower court's decision and denied the appeal.

Criminal Cases Not Heard in Civil Court

The warrants issued to the social media giant in 2013 were based on the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Now it's officially called the Stored Communications Act (SCA). The Act was formulated during the formative years of electronic communications and was meant to strike a balance between public privacy and law enforcement needs.

The SCA makes a marked distinction between a "subpoena" and a "warrant". One of the main reasons for the Supreme Court's decision was that a warrant is used primarily in criminal cases. Therefore the court cannot hear a civil appeal on a criminal case.

Why Social Media is a Target

The very nature of social media poses a problem for injury and illness victims. This is because it's a place where people put on their best "face." Data indicates that social media users often smile when in pain and crop injuries out of posted photographs.

It's the very culture of real-life, and social media interactions, to avoid complaining because people don't like others who are negative.

The very premise of participating on these platforms is to share positive aspects of their lives and to project emotional stability and friendship-worthiness. With this human tendency, it's easy to portray an inaccurate account of the severity of injuries and one's physical and emotional state.

An experienced personal injury lawyer recommends against posting to social media because this subjective content is available to anyone with a warrant. Pictures, videos and comments can be misinterpreted or misconstrued. Although insurance companies are obligated to comply with the terms of the insurance policy, they will act in their own interests by gathering as much information to support their position as possible, in an effort to avoid payments and payouts.

Sue for Privacy Infringements

Companies like Facebook have their hands tied when it comes to protecting a user's constitutional right of privacy. There is only one remedy for those that have their privacy infringed as a result of a warrant to access Facebook. That's to sue for invasion of privacy after the fact, with the help of a personal injury lawyer.

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