Tweets can be used as evidence

In the last few months, tweets and Facebook posts by people who have allegedly committed crimes have led media and police directly to them. Now comes the news that tweets can be used in evidence by courts of law. The Age reports:

London: British lawyers have warned that people’s tweets could be used as evidence against them, after a California teenager had a manslaughter charge upgraded to murder partly because of boasts on Twitter. 

Barrister Mark McDonald told Britain’s Metro newspaper: ‘‘ The police … may ask someone alleging rape to send a message to the person they are accusing asking why they did it. Their reply can then be used in evidence.’’


Social media to be gagged?

Late last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Attorneys-General from each of Australia’s states have met to discuss ways to gag social media comments that could directly affect the outcome of matters before the courts.

The attorneys, meeting in Brisbane today on the day Ms Meagher’s funeral was held in Melbourne, set up a group to create national guidelines on social media.

Headed by Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark, the group will be made up of mainstream and social media representatives, judicial officers and police.

It will make recommendations on how to regulate the spread of prejudicial material on social media, warnings for users that police or courts could issue on Facebook and Twitter, and protocols for social media companies.

It will also propose directions that courts can give to juries on social media, examine laws detailing juror offences and assess what research is needed to determine how social media affected jurors’ decisions.

At one stage, Facebook had refused requests from Victoria Police to take down offending pages. Read the entire article here.

Twitter forced to release tweets to court

Following on from yesterday’s post about the Australian government wanting access to our phone and web data, recently a New York court ordered Twitter to hand over tweets from the Occupy Wall Street group:

The micro-blogging website had argued that the posts belonged to activist Malcolm Harris and as such it would be violating fourth amendment privacy rights if it were to disclose the communications without first receiving a search warrant.

In January, the New York County district attorney’s office issued a subpoena to Twitter, calling on the firm to hand over “any and all user information, including email address, as well as any and all tweets posted for the period 9/15/2011 – 12/31/2011”.

Harris initially attempted to block the move, but was told that he had no proprietary interest to his own messages.

Twitter countered that this contradicts its own terms and conditions, which explicitly states that users “retain their right to any content they submit, post or display on or through”. Moreover, in its own legal challenge to the subpoena, the firm accused prosecutors of trying to force its employees to violate federal law.

Lawyers for Twitter also argued that under the Uniform Act, prosecutors would need to obtain a subpoena in California before it could demand documents from a company based in that state.

Monday’s ruling found that a search warrant was indeed needed for a final day’s worth of tweets by Harris as they fell within a timeline laid out in federal law. All else was fair game for the prosecutors, the judge found.
The court will now review the material and provide the relevant tweets to the DA’s office.

Read the entire article here.

The question now is who owns our communications? Who has the right to access what we had thought were personal and private messages? It makes you think twice about what type of information you transmit via mobile phone and internet.

Bullying victim wins court case forcing Facebook to unmask anonymous tormentors

A few weeks ago Yahoo News reported on a court case in the United Kingdom where Facebook has been ordered to unveil the names, email addresses and IP information of a tormentor.

A representative from Facebook said

we respect our legal obligations and work with law enforcement to ensure that such people are brought to justice.

This is not the first time this has occurred, so anyone thinking that they can hide behind the anonymity of Facebook are mistaken. Read the entire article here.