Saturday, December 20, 2014

How Private is Private?

A current court case wending its way through NY has some implications for all of us and how we use social media.  How many people do you share your posts with?  On Twitter, the case is pretty strong for law enforcement to have access to these during an investigation.  Anyone can follow you without your permission and then can retweet it to anyone they want.  So there is very little expectation of privacy. 

On the other hand with Facebook, you have the option to share only with your direct links.  Furthermore, you can set up your privacy settings so your friends can’t forward it/repost it to others.  But the current law suggests that even this is not a sure thing.  If you have only five FB friends, and they are all real friends, you can probably be sure that they will follow your wishes and you therefore have an expectation of privacy.  So law enforcement can’t get access to it by subpoena to Facebook. 

But if you have 500 FB connections, a reasonably aware person should know that no matter what your settings are, things can get out. Especially if they are juicy.  So the courts are leaning towards allowing law enforcement access to this information if they have enough probable cause to get a subpoena. 

My Take

So what this really may tell you is that when you get those random friend requests from people you don’t really know, you may be better off turning them down.  Not just because they will clutter your news feed with posts you don’t care about, but because it may protect you from subpoena later on.  And please don’t say “but if you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to worry about anyway.”  There are plenty of cases where someone was investigated based on very little evidence and had their reputations ruined by the time their innocence was established.  So it matters for all of us.