In our recent post, Can the Court Force You to Turn Over Your Facebook Account? The Short Answer. Yes, we discussed how courts around the country have been ordering parties to turn over social media accounts during litigation. In an update to the Occupy Wall Street Protest cases, the New York Times (Twitter Turns Over User’s Messages in Occupy Wall Street Protest Case) reported that Judge Matthew Sciarrino Jr., of the Criminal Court in Manhattan, ordered Twitter to turn over a stack of tweets written by an arrested Occupy Wall Street protester, Malcolm Harris. The Manhattan prosecutor sought discovery of the tweets in an effort to defeat an argument the defendant is expected to make at his criminal trial for disorderly conduct.
Finally, the ruling also touched on the ever-present privacy issue. How did Judge Sciarrino handle the issue of social media privacy versus access to information? Well, the judge sealed the messages in his chambers until a hearing on the order requiring disclosure. If Mr. Harris loses his challenge, then Judge Sciarrino held that he would personally review each message, and only turn over to the prosecutor the relevant Tweets. Judge Sciarrino also stated that “once the material was broadcast, it was no longer a private record”, mirroring many of the judicial conclusions that once information is put out on the web, privacy rights seriously decline.
Whether the litigation is criminal or civil, this case exemplifies how any litigant can seek and obtain access to a party’s social media accounts. Courts routinely recognize that messages posted on social media accounts are relevant to most litigation matters and fall within the domain of public information – accessible and discoverable during litigation.
Like it or not, Twitter, Facebook and any other social media site, may be required to disclose your personal, but maybe not so private, information. Social media users should constantly be aware of that possibility (so think before you tweet)! Have you had concerns about the privacy of your social media sites?