Texas Legislator Introduces Bill That Would Allow Legal Papers To Be Served To People's Social Media Accounts
from the and-you-thought-you-were-awkward-in-public-already dept
Well, this should be fun. A bill (a very short one) has been introduced into the Texas state legislature that would grant various entities the right to serve people legal papers via their social media accounts. This is more of an add on than an actual bill, giving process servers, etc. the choice (should a judge allow it) to bring you the glad tidings of a legal summons, divorce proceedings, paycheck garnishment and the like through various social media services.
Here's the pertinent legal wording in all its brief glory.
Sec.A17.031. SUBSTITUTED SERVICE THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITE. (a) If substituted service of citation is authorized under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the court may prescribe as a method of service under those rules an electronic communication sent to the defendant through a social media website if the court finds that:Now, I can understand the frustration of those in the paper-serving business. If someone truly doesn't want bad news delivered to them, they can simply not answer the phone, pick up the mail and otherwise make themselves unavailable. Most people, however, can't seem to stay away from Facebook and other social media networks for very long, though, making this avenue extra tempting. In fact, a judge in Australia made an exception to allow a lawyer to serve notice of foreclosure via Facebook back in 2008, after the foreclosees failed to show up in court.
(1) the defendant maintains a social media page on that website;
(2) the profile on the social media page is the profile of the defendant;
(3) the defendant regularly accesses the social media page account; and
(4) the defendant could reasonably be expected to receive actual notice if the electronic communication were sent to the defendant’s account.
The problem with this sort of activity is that it becomes a very public act. There are a variety of ways to contact people discreetly via social media, but those methods can be just as easily ignored as anything IRL.
For instance, my Facebook account receives quite a few messages from people I don't know or follow. I check this inbox roughly once every NEVER. If someone were to send me a notice I needed to respond to within X amount of time or face the dire consequences (I don't know -- hacked to death by cleaver-wielding members of the Sheriff's department?), I would blissfully slip right past the deadline and be cleaved to death once the time had expired. In order to actually be noticed, those serving legal notices might need to "befriend" those they're serving, something that seems unlikely. (You have a friend request from Lower Brule County Sheriff's Department. Accept?)
The easier option would be to just splatter the news all over your personal page, which is viewable by (at the minimum) your Friends list. If you're like everybody, you'd probably rather not have everyone you've Facebook-friended know that you're seriously delinquent on your child support payments or that your car has just been repossessed.
Likewise with Twitter. If both parties don't follow each other, they can't utilize direct messages, the behind-the-scenes Twitter option. This basically means that those serving papers will be left to publicly @you, something that's viewable by everyone on Twitter.
Now, those pushing for this can argue that the very process of serving papers is rarely private. After all, your neighbors can see the sheriff's car in your driveway. If you've been particularly troublesome to get ahold of, a person may find someone hurling papers in their general direction at their workplace, in the airport, while walking down the street, at their kid's ballgame... pretty much anywhere.
Having someone Tweet "YOU'VE BEEN SERVED" with a link to a PDF isn't that much different than having papers shoved into your hands at a crowded mall. The main difference (which may be key) is that the document will be immediate, public knowledge, unlike a fistful of paper shoved into your reluctant hands.
Now, if this bill does become law (and that's a very big IF), one would hope that these judges would be extremely reluctant to grant servers the right to hurl papers all over the internet. The potential for abuse is enormous, especially considering the IRL option is much more strenuous than firing off tweets and Facebook posts from the comfort of an air-conditioned office. Sure, I'd love to see more deadbeat dads get served for non-payment of child support and other miscreants receive their legal comeuppance, but I'd much rather see this process handled with a bit more propriety than these public venues would allow.