Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Access to Facebook
Facebook appears to be in the news almost daily these days and, for a number of different reasons, it is now clear that all lawyers need to educate themselves (and their clients) on how to use it and not to use it. That includes me, but I do know one thing: very little (if anything) is private on the internet. For more on the issues related to professional conduct and social media go to this section of my Professional Responsibility blog, particularly to this post with examples of some of the uses of social media that have created problems for lawyers and judges recently. Now here is the latest, via the Legal Profession Blog: Last year, the Philadelphia Bar Association issued an opinion (available here) concluding that seeking to surrepticiously “friend” an opposing party or witness on social media (such as Facebook), personally or through an agent would constitute unethical conduct. However, a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas recently held that a party may be compelled through the discovery process to provide an opponent with access to his Facebook and MySpace accounts. In a decision in the case of McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., handed down September 9, 2010, President Judge John Henry Foradora of the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County held that access to one’s social networking sites is not protected by any privilege, and that the plaintiff in a personal injury action could be compelled to reveal the usernames and passwords of his Facebook and MySpace accounts to counsel for the defendants (but not to the defendants themselves). The court looked closely at the privacy and disclosure policies of the sites in question, and concluded that users are on notice that information posted on them may be revealed to persons who have access to such information by process of law. A New York trial court decision reached the same result by a very similar analysis.