As technology continues to change our lives at a rapid pace, it’s easy to forget that so much of our most valuable and private information now hides in our computers, in our email accounts, phones, text messages iPads, and other devices. When you love someone, it may seem only natural and convenient to share your various passwords and account information or to leave your devices unprotected. However, when relationships become conflicted breakups, these security lapses can result in humiliating disasters with far-reaching consequences. As lawmakers try to keep up to help protect our information, it is more important than ever before to be aware of what is legal, what isn’t legal, and what steps you need to take in order to protect yourself from someone accessing your information for malicious purposes.
What are my online privacy rights?
Putting it bluntly, when you’re in a marriage or live-in relationship, you don’t have many. Texas did recently pass a bill (CSHB 896) to help define what a cyber-crime actually is, but it mostly doesn’t apply in this arena. Specifically, the law says a person commits an offense if they knowingly access a computer, network or system “with the intent to defraud or harm another or alter, damage, or delete property.” Although this language sounds reassuring, it is important to note that spouses are often given extraordinary leeway by courts with regards to what many would consider a reasonable invasion of privacy. In many instance, your spouse may still access anything in your computer, emails, or phone, and potentially even use that as evidence in any court proceedings. There are many examples of spouses aggressively attempting to do exactly that and successfully leveraging whatever they find to obtain custody, favorable settlements, or other advantages.
So what can I do?
If you are going through a divorce or break up,
- Immediately tell your spouse/ex that they DO NOT have permission to access any of your accounts, and document the message. You do have a right to privacy. If your spouse (Ex) continues to try to access your information, then they are potentially committing a criminal offense, and at the very least, any information they discover after written notice may not be admissible in court.
- CHANGE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, and do it right away. Most of the popular online email services (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) actually track your internet usage and display that information to anyone with your password who knows where to look. What about iCloud / Apple? If your spouse has your password, they can actually log in to iMessage from anywhere, see all of your past texts and read any texts that you receive in real time. Depending on your device settings, they may even be able to track your actual location. Change your passwords, and…
- If you can, enable two-step verification on all accounts which offer it. This extra step will guarantee that nobody can access your account without your knowledge and permission.
In short, there is still a lot of gray area as our legal system struggles to keep up with technology. The smartest thing you can do is make sure you protect your accounts, stay away from your spouse’s, and exercise caution in anything you do online or on your phone.
When was the last time you checked your favorite social networking site to see if you received a new message or to catch up on a current friend’s information ten minutes ago? With 85% of all adults using the internet and 48% using social networking sites on a daily basis, you are definitely in the majority of Americans. (Pew Research Study/Aug.2012). Consider further that of the 88% of adults using cell phones daily, 55% of those adults are using their phones to go online and update social networking sites (Pew research Survey/April 2012).
People now make available for easy disclosure practically their entire life details and confessions online. Social networking technologies are forcing us to learn to navigate the murky waters between business and pleasure. This mixture creates a “Permanent Record” of each on social networking sites.
Now that you are in a legal dispute, how may this universal sharing of personal and business information affect you legally? A scary thought? YOU BET! With so much valuable and often sensitive information now available through these social sites, the discovered information could field devastating results in many court cases.
What we strongly warn our clients:
1. Almost everything you post on social networking sites can and likely will be used against you in a lawsuit.
2. Avoid making any comments concerning your lawsuit or the judicial system on any internet or social networking sites.
3. Do not make comments about your adversary. Even “positive” comments can be misconstrued or used out of context; it is a smart idea to stop all your activity on social networking sites until after your lawsuit is over or the dispute is resolved!
4. Provide your attorney a list of all social networking sites you are a member of along with their passwords.
5. Do not intentionally remove or delete any posts, photos, or videos from a social networking site that existed when your lawsuit was filed or if you are anticipating a lawsuit. Keep everything as it is! Obstruction or spoliation maybe highly damaging to your case by implication even for innocent deletions.
6. If you have communicated with your opponent or a potential witness, provide this social networking information to your attorney at once. It can be used in your lawsuit!
7. Remember pictures communicate without words. Do not share photographs that are incriminating, inappropriate, or what may be taken out of context.
In summary, evidence from all social media sites is now being used by prosecutors, defense attorneys, personal injury attorneys, civil dispute attorneys, employment attorneys and foremost by family attorneys! Be careful what you say, post or disclose whenever you are communicating on any type of social media site! What you say or show may be your civil undoing!
Every day the impact of social networking is growing and affecting the everyday American in all aspects of their lives. The Pew Research Center, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/social-networking-sites.aspx , has just come out with a new study, in which a record 72% of online adults are social networking users! Young adults are the predominate users, but since 2009, the 65+ users have jumped from 31% to 43%!
Another new study by Pew Research, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/social-networking-sites.aspx , finds that most internet users would rather be anonymous online, but cannot! 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints and 55% of internet users have tried to avoid observation by specific organizations, people and the government! Also a sustainable amount of internet users say they have experienced stolen personal information or others have been taken advantage of from their online visibility.
Some very interesting statistics from Pew Research on “Anonymity, Privacy and Security Online”:
- 21% of internet users have had an email or social networking site efforts compromised by someone without permission.
- 12% have been stalked or harassed online
- 11% have had important personal information stolen, social security, credit card numbers, or bank account information.
- 6% have been victims of online scams or lost money
- 6% have had their reputation damaged because of online information
- 4% have been led into physical danger from online occurrences
What about a potential lawsuit? Are you worried about how your or the opposing party’s social networking could affect the results of a case? You should be very prudent and attentive! The best advice would be to remove yourself from all social networks or take down sites temporary until the completion of the legal case! Do Not Delete! Since that is impractical in many cases here are possible suggestions to consider in your social networking when involved in litigation:
- Anything you do or say online could and probably will be used against you!
- Make sure that your lawyer knows about your social networking habits and if there are any past conversations or photos that could be used against you.
- Have you ever shared a computer with your soon to be ex-spouse or potential ex-partner? Make sure you check the hard drive for relevant information concerning your lawsuit or proof that spyware wasn’t installed on the computer. Also change your email address and password for privacy.
- What about your children and their posting on social networking site. Your children are probably a lot smarter than you on texting, emailing or posting online and make sure you check what is being said online and on their cell phones!
- Check for posting from co-workers, friends, relatives and enemies as to what they are saying on your site about you or your situation to the world. You may be able to pick up some good information, or learn who is a friend and who you can trust!
- Never discuss financial situations or problems online. Got a new car? Taking a trip? The world doesn’t need to know!
- Photos or Videos should be a No! No! Until after your lawsuit is over! Delete nothing to avoid penalties assessed by the court!
Think smart, be smart! Social Networking and a Lawsuit is a very combustible situation that usually turns out to your disadvantage. Just say no!
Millions of people daily log into their favorite social networking sites to chronicle their lives both personal and professional. All day people visit with friends, business associates or look for new contacts. 9/2012 Pew Report states that 66% of the U.S. population uses social networking websites on a regular basis and 53% of the 50+ year old population engages in social networking!
With more people every day using social media for their online interaction, these websites are affecting the legal and ethical aspects of the personal relationships and the law. Much valuable legal information may be discovered in a lawsuit on these websites which are proving to potentially have devastating results in the court litigation.
Many social networking site users are now looking at the additional options regarding privacy management because of concern with regard to potential legal liability. 63% of the users are deleting people not known from their “friends” list. 44% of these users have deleted comments made by others on their profile, and 37% have removed their name from photos that tagged their identify. (Pew Report 2/2012)
You should exercise careful thoughtful judgment when posting on social networking sites. Think before your post! Could this one click post be potentially damaging to you, to others you care about or to your business relationships? In today’s world, many lawyers are asking very specific questions to their clients concerning email addresses, use of social networking sites and types of personal information a client has posted about themselves, or other information publicly disclosed from other people’s social networking. Many lawyers now ask their clients to stop using or to deactivate (not delete) their social networking sites during their litigation process. Better safe than sorry!
The use of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) is now being addressed by the U.S. Government and many states regarding usage and admissibility in litigation. The Federal Rules have been amended to address ESI and set up a framework on dealing with this information. The rules include ESI to email, web pages, word processing files, computer databases, and just about anything that is stored on a computer. The definition of ESI also includes traditional email, instant and text messaging, voice mail, personal webmail, blogging and other new emerging technologies. Potential relevant information from any of these sources must now be preserved by litigants in the federal courts. Just remember what you do or say online can and will be used against you and/or distorted since: “You Said It”!