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Facebook Private Communications Could Now Be Used Against You In Court

Okabe & Haushalter Jun 7, 2018 Criminal Defense

Facebook has been a very popular way to communicate since the day that it was invented. Growing from strength to strength it is still becoming increasingly popular. What we expect, however, is that our communications with others, unless on the public wall are kept private.

A recent ruling by the court in California has gone against this. The court has ruled that if evidence can be gathered to receive a subpoena from the court then the criminal authorities have the right to go through a person’s private and personal messages and use it as evidence in a case against them.

Details of the ruling

Previously it was not against the law for social media platforms such as Facebook to deny infringement of user’s privacy to aid a police case and hand out personal data, unless there are special circumstances. These circumstances include:

  • When a social media user consents to the production of communications that he or she has posted with privately or publicly.
  • When such communications are compelled by law enforcement through search warrants or prosecutorial subpoenas.

The court has now ruled that the social media platform must release all public data related to a case. Private communications are still protected by law.

The ambiguity of the ruling

Whilst the ruling is a strong move to help support cases there are still some ambiguities around the ruling. The word public poses several questions like:

  • How does a court distinguish public and private?
  • Does a user need to set her entire profile as “public” in order for the communication to fall within an exception?
  • Is there a limit on the number of people a communication can be sent to before it falls within the exception and can be compelled?
  • If an account is changed from public to private can the communications still be counted as public?

These questions that were left open by the court will need to be litigated.

Is it unconstitutional to stop private records being released?

It has often been argued that the SCA, the stored communications act, is unlawful. The SCA imposes a federal limit on compelled disclosure from Internet sites, including Facebook. Lawyers claim that the SCA gets in the way of and blocks the fifth and sixth amendment rights, preventing a fair trial, to present a complete defense, and to cross-examine witnesses support their subpoenas.

This is because it is thought that the defense can not provide a fair trial without giving all the evidence required if that evidence is not accessible to them due to restrictions in the law. No court ruling to this date has favored this argument.

Consult a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer today

If you or your loved one are undergoing a criminal investigation of any sort a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer can help guide you through the process. A Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer will use all their expertise to get you the best results available for your case. To explore your options contact our office on 310-430-7799.