Latest Facebook App: You've Been Served!

from the allow-this-application-to-access-your-legal-history?--yes/no dept

The process of serving legal papers on someone can be quite tricky — especially if they’re purposely avoiding it. However, a judge in Australia has now allowed a lawyer to serve a couple via Facebook with notification that they’ve lost their house due to defaulting on a loan. The court had already ruled that they were to lose their house for the default (the couple didn’t even bother to show up in court), but before the house could actually be taken, the couple had to be served with the ruling. However, that proved to be much more difficult than usual, and after exhausting a variety of different attempts, the court finally ruled that using Facebook would be an acceptable way to serve the documents.

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Comments on “Latest Facebook App: You've Been Served!”

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27 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see how this is illegal: once you publish a profile online, it does become public information.

*BUT* (and this is a real big but), it’s real discouraging that Facebook doesn’t do more to protect users from these “fishing expeditions” used by marketing and collection agencies. What’s next? Tieing a credit report to your facebook profile?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This is already being done by auto insurance companies. When filing a medical claim (if you got hurt in an accident) they deem suspicious they do an investigation. That investigator can access facebook & myspace to see how you look, then they visit where you live to see if you’re being honest about your medical claim, are you actually hurt.

Spazz (profile) says:

A good idea, within limits.

In this particular case it seems like this is a reasonable method for serving court papers. However, it should only really be used when some conditions are met, in my mind these would be:
-All other (reasonable) methods have been exhausted.
-It can be verified that the facebook account is actually controlled by the person

Otherwise you have legal papers flying left and right, and if someone does not check facebook but once in a blue moon, they may suddenly find a rude surprise coming to them.

Tahoe says:

Re: A good idea, within limits.

Most collection agents are paid to produce results- be it pay in full, a garnishment, liens, etc. This is why many questionable activities are performed by a 3rd party- to absolve any wrongdoing by the original bank or creditor.

If you think these types of agencies will observe laws, much less a set of best practices, to be nice guys, you sir, are very mistaken.

It will take laws.

Xiera says:

Actually...

I think this is great. It’s clearly a case where the ‘defendant’, if you will, was trying to avoid the law by attempting to hide from it. Rather than insist on using traditional methods of resolving the case, the court showed an ability to embrace the newer technology (facebook) when other methods were unsuccessful. In the end, justice was served.

This seems to be a step in the right direction… as long as people don’t get carried away. As for some other comments I see, I agree that this should be used only when “all other (reasonable) methods have been exhausted”, with an added stipulation that no personal information is relayed by that medium.

However, the condition that the intended person is controlling the account is a little sillier. It can, and should, be assumed that the person who controls the profile/account is indeed the person who is represented by the profile/account. Any method of false representation or transferred control of an account constitutes a violation of facebook’s Terms of Use, and the violating party(s) should be held accountable for the transgression in addition to whatever other applicable laws are broken.

Specifically, from facebook itself: “In consideration of your use of the Site, you agree to (a) provide accurate, current and complete information about you as may be prompted by any registration forms on the Site (“Registration Data”); (b) maintain the security of your password and identification; (c) maintain and promptly update the Registration Data, and any other information you provide to Company, to keep it accurate, current and complete; and (d) be fully responsible for all use of your account and for any actions that take place using your account.”

So, assuming (rightly) that the operator of a facebook account is the person being represented by it, I see no harm in delivering notices via facebook, as long as said notices do not contain personal information.

Wayfarer says:

Re: Actually...

Yes, but I have a facebook profile that I never have used (A freind set it up for me, for no reason that I know of, and despite my objections, so they would have someone to link to.) and I sometimes am hard to contact (Not my fault, blame my job). I’d rather they not get desperate when I can’t even make it to court and take everything from me via a facebook account I have never logged on to since it was set up.

Mind, I’m just in a position where I have legitimate reasons that reaching me is difficult, and I’m afraid for myself because of that. I’m not someone like you who’s comfortable in being easy to contact, and knows that only people in fraudulent businesses can go without contact to the world for months to a year.

Though, I’ll admit I’m unmarried, with no house and no kids, so there’s not much they could take from me in a foreclosure. Just whatever apartment I rent for my brief stays in the states.

Xiera says:

Re: Re: Actually...

Wayfarer : So my response would be to close your profile. If you don’t use it, there’s no reason to have it. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to have one, but no one else should be operating it. If you keep an account that you don’t use, you’re still liable for the activities of that account.) The whole point of having an account on a social networking site (as far as I know) is to be able to be contacted.

Post 11 : This is entirely correct. Facebook has no way of knowing who you really are. (And this is a good thing, actually.) BUT if you are associated with your account incorrectly (ie, someone else is pretending to be you), you have a claim against the false “you”. It’s situations like this that account for my insistence that “no personal information is relayed by that medium”.

Clearly, there is more to an identity than just one’s name. Though this is a primary identifier, I can’t imagine any court okaying this kind of communication without verifying that the account’s (supposed) owner is indeed the “John Smith” in question.

And, no, I have never been the subject of a court filing or ruling, so I don’t know what kind of personal information is involved. But it would seem to me that the scenario in question just involves informing the other party that action is being taken. If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again.

hegemon13 : Perhaps the ToU are not directly binding, but it does provide a framework for protecting yourself legally. For example, if someone is pretending to be you, it should be clear (based on access logs) that you did not actually use the account in question. However, if you DID use the account, you should be legally bound. Again, if you are misrepresented, I would think you would be entitled to present such a claim for investigation.

So, I would say that there are three cases:
(1) The owner of the account is the person who is represented by it.
(2) Someone created an account pretending to be someone else.
(3) There are two (or more) people with the same name.

In case 1, the person is responsible for the on-goings of their account, including information received by their account.

In case 2, the person should not be responsible because it is not truly their account. Rather, the owner of the false account should be criminally charged.

In case 3, the court should obviously delve more deeply into who the persons are. If it is impossible to tell which is the correct person, then facebook is clearly not the proper choice. If there is no question as to which the intended party is, then facebook is an appropriate choice.

It all comes down to execution, and while the courts have provided more than their share of “are you kidding me?” scenarios, one has to hope that the justice system will be able to fix its mistakes, if necessary.

Wayfarer says:

Re: Re: Re: Actually...

I don’t have the password. Which I find seriously annoying. Makes it a touch hard to close it. On the other hand, to be perfectly fair, I’m probably not in danger. I have little debt, and few possessions. The thing that worries me is if my bank account gets closed for some reasons while I’m out of the states, and I don’t get informed.

Xiera says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Actually...

I understand that. And a judge hearing your (theoretical) case would probably understand that. I would hope that you have other ways for your bank to reach you, though, especially if you’re actively using the account from abroad.

You really should get that password . Or change it (is it setup for your email address?). You really might want to fix your situation in case your buddy decides to be “funny” in a way that you don’t like.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Actually...

Whether it violates Facebook’s terms of use means nothing. Their TOU are not legally binding. The worst that can happen is you lose access to the site. Plus, if someone fakes a profile pretending to be me and gets served a court document containing personal information, telling me they were violating the TOU doesn’t help me much.

It absolutely should NOT be assumed that the person controlling the account is the person identified in its details. How many examples have we heard already of confusion caused by fake profiles? Making that a legal assumption would be an absolute disaster.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Actually...

Whether it violates Facebook’s terms of use means nothing. Their TOU are not legally binding. The worst that can happen is you lose access to the site. Plus, if someone fakes a profile pretending to be me and gets served a court document containing personal information, telling me they were violating the TOU doesn’t help me much.

It absolutely should NOT be assumed that the person controlling the account is the person identified in its details. How many examples have we heard already of confusion caused by fake profiles? Making that a legal assumption would be an absolute disaster.

Anonymous Coward says:

You have obviously never been the subject of a court filing or ruling. Its full of personal information.

Please explain how facebook is going to be able to tell what your real name is, or who you really are? Its not like you have to go into the office and show some identification to setup an account. My son uses a derivative of his name on his my space account. Why? Because his name is in use by someone else who happens to have the same first and last name. So, how would this work in a circumstance like that?

Please, do respond, with flames if you believe it necessary, althoug I would prefer a sane reply.

Matt (profile) says:

smart vs stupid

note that there are ways to make your facebook profile essentially invisible to anyone not a friend to your account, too.

Thus, this could be a huge stretch when you can’t even confirm the right person.

Example: there are 3 people with my exact same first and last name on facebook, and we all live within ~50-60 miles from eachother. No, it’s not smith. None of us use our middle names, and all of us are not related in any fashion. How would someone ensure that the proper one of us is served?

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: smart vs stupid

That is the same reason I laugh when I hear stories about potential employers looking us up online for our profiles to decide if they should hire us or not.
What makes them so sure that they have me and not somebody else with the same name?
Any company that would base decisions off of what they find from google, I wouldn’t want to work for anyways.

Supply Guy says:

Hello? Is anyone home? We KNOW that people are not always in control of social networking accounts. Have you all forgotten about Megan Meier? Clear cut proof that people are not always who they say they are. What’s next is the RIAA gonna serve me with papers via My Space? Or even better… How about I make a profile for Joseph Massino, and run the “Mobsters” application. Would that be a violation of the RICO Act?

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