The net is all up in arms because a Canadian court has made a plaintiff in a lawsuit divulge content from her “private” Facebook account, which was set as “friends only.” There is absolutely no reason to be upset about this ruling. This has been the law for centuries.

Under the law if you divulge secrets to third parties, they’re no longer secrets. So if I write even one friend about my secret and mark it as private, it can be subpoenaed even though it as marked as private. Even if I get my friend to promise never to divulge the secret, it’s still discoverable in court. (If relevant, of course.)

The same is true of Facebook. Merely marking a Facebook page as private does not change the fact that it was used to give out information to third parties.

The only exception to this is if there is some sort of privilege. Such as when the third party is a priest or your therapist and is legally obligated not to divulge your secret. Then there’s an expectation of privacy that you keep. (And there are limitations to that, too.) But if you tell your friends secrets, those secrets are discoverable under the law.

Note to the internet generation: If you want to keep secrets, don’t fricken tell anyone your secrets!

  1. Nothing is Free Without A Catch says:

    See, it’s like I have been saying for thousands of years, freedom of speech is a scam.

  2. GregA says:

    Heh, I still think its funny that facebook is still a fraction of the size of MySpace.

  3. Mr. Fusion says:

    Nothing new here. It has long been standard practice that either side in Civil Court cases may subpoena anything that may be relevant to their case. Whether that includes discovery on a classmate, co-worker, neighbor doesn’t matter.

    When the accusation is the enjoyment of life as a claim for damages, then all is fair in order for the defense to challenge that claim.

  4. billabong says:

    You are better off doing it “whatever”in your front yard than online.Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

  5. dusanmal says:

    “This has been the law for centuries.

    Under the law if you divulge secrets to third parties, they’re no longer secrets.”

    Definitely not centuries. It is relatively recent interpretation of the USA Constitution “search and seizure” item, at the time when it was expanded by the interpreting Judges to cover “privacy rights”. In many other countries it is much less or much more – not standard.

    Reading Constitution strictly one must make single assumption about new technology that didn’t exist at the time. I’d argue that Internet content locked by any means represents equivalent of the papers protected from search and seizure. Would be interesting if someone brought this up to the Supreme Court…

  6. skatterbrainz says:

    And nobody thought to include the argument of “national security”? With all the DHS post-911 hysteria, I’m absolutely SHOCKED no one here even mentioned that aspect. Come on folks: Coffee!

    To restate this in terms for those still suffering with decaf: “privacy” and “secrecy” are completely ignored when the incident or issue involves “national security”. The qualification for “national security” is frighteningly vague and broad. So good luck!

  7. dm says:

    Note to the Florida generation: There is no Princess. Stop sending your money to Nigeria.

  8. ECA says:

    I warn people about putting stuff on the net.

    Public knowledge, is fine, quick links are fine..
    But never put personal or Private info on hte net.

  9. Mr. Fusion says:

    #6, Dusan,

    Reading [the] Constitution strictly one must make single assumption about new technology that didn’t exist at the time.

    Not quite. The Constitution and Bill of Rights generally apply to criminal cases. In a civil case you must not only talk to the opposing lawyers, you must disclose everything to them. Knowingly withholding information could end up with sanctions against the lawyer or even the case.

    In most cases though, a witness can not be forced to to admit to a crime or testify about a crime they may be charged with. That is how OJ Simpson was forced to testify at his civil trial.

  10. Lou says:

    The sheeple get screwed once more by big bro.

  11. RicoSauve says:

    Um… can we get the gender changed to reflect reality please? The woman is the defendant, and the man is the one that has had his facebook data requested. At least read the damn article and not just the slashdot page you’re linking to…

    The issue involved HIS claim that HE wasn’t able to enjoy life after the car accident, and HER lawyers wanted to see his ‘private’ facebook page to see if there were any pics of him doing similar activities that he supposedly could no longer do after the accident. This is no different than the PI hanging out snapping pics of the guys walking around and/or moving furniture after making a workers comp claim.

  12. deowll says:

    There may be data that would cause him problems that aren’t related to the case but he’s bleeped. Files like documents can be examined.

    You want to keep a secret? Don’t record the information outside your skull.

  13. GregA says:


    Or just accept that all these bizantine rules around secrets are like epicycles, and realize…

    There are no secrets…

  14. Cap'nKangaroo says:

    If you think the stink about this is bad, wait until opposing parents in a divorce want their teen age children’s Facebook/Myspace private pages exposed to “help” the court determine custody.

    Nothing is as ugly as an ugly divorce.

  15. bdoserror says:

    GregA (#4): I guess 2/1 is technically a fraction, but Facebook is larger than MySpace, not smaller.


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