Are Social Network Private Messages More Private Than Email Under The Law?

from the courts-and-technology dept

It’s always interesting to see how courts deal with changing technology. For example, it’s pretty common for courts to order emails to be handed over in certain lawsuits as part of the discovery process. However, for many younger people, email has taken a backseat to more popular private messaging features on social networks like MySpace and Facebook. In a recent court case, one side requested access to the private messages in the same manner that they would normally request access to email. However, both MySpace and Facebook have privacy policies saying they won’t share the info (though, both say that they will under a court order). In this case, the court decided that it was too early to hand over access to such private messages, saying that the defendant’s lawyer needed to first use other routes to try to find the information he was looking for before the court would blindly hand over access to social network private messages. It’s likely that this type of request will start to become more popular in court cases — and it may be difficult for judges to believe that social networking private messages are effectively any different than email.


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Comments on “Are Social Network Private Messages More Private Than Email Under The Law?”

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10 Comments
Wisconsingod says:

There IS a difference

Namely, tracability. The myspace/facebook/social networking site (aka SNS) messages never leave the SNS servers. Thus there is no IP record of where a message originated or where it terminated. E-mail messages, on the other hand, typically have a IP trail of what location specific events took place. Just because a message is marked as read on the SMS site provides no proof that the user associated with the account ever actually recieved the message. however, most e-mails can provide that level of proof. The issue ultimately lies in the Judges ability to understand the validity differences between different types of electronic communication, and how much weight can be given to each type of evidence in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: There IS a difference

Actually, that’s not completely true. Being a web designer I know it is both possible, and very often done, that you can record what IP requests a certain page, and by requiring login’s you can see (with relative certainty – especially when comparing to IP data), who was logged in at what time. And it’s actually more powerful because you can trace generate an entire route of a person through a website using sessions/ip data and construct an entire viewing sequence, then analyze that sequence to generate common viewing patterns for a particular individual. Just because it’s all within a single server, doesn’t make it any less valuable, especially when coupled to other knowledge from other sources

The infamous Joe says:

Re: Uhm...

No, all messages you receive are stored in your account until you delete them.

The ones you send are deleted after 14 days or something.

I don’t think Social Networking messages are any more private– if anything it’s easier to hunt down my myspace page than it is my email address– which makes it less private to me.

Erik Schmidt (user link) says:

AC misses the point about the role of the judge

I think both of you are forgetting the simple fact that this will require a judge to understand how technology works.

The judge’s role is not to come into the courtroom knowing all there is to know about Internet technology (or about firearm ballistics or the effects of chemical compounds in groundwater, or any other of millions of possible fact patterns). It is the role of the lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant to make their case to the judge, explaining the relevance of the facts.

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