Is It Legal For Courts To Use Private Facebook Correspondence For Evidence?

Have you ever been typing something to someone on a social media chat and worried that your message would get intercepted? You apparently should. Just like hitting reply to all, when you really meant to hit reply, what you say on social media pages may soon be heard legally read by someone other than the recipient. Those private chats that you are having may not be so private after all.

chat in social media

A Woodland Hills Personal Injury Lawyer is arguing a case in the courts whereby he believes that Facebook data that was collected for 23 defendants in the courts should be thrown out of evidence. He is arguing that the prosecutors who hold the evidence, uncovered it without probable cause and, therefore, that it was an illegal search and seizure.

The argument is being waged that the 23 defendants who are facing charges in a federal conspiracy case from a 41-day armed stance at the Masher National Wildlife Refuge were subjected to an illegal search without a warrant due to the prosecution using their private and personal correspondence using Facebook.

A ruling that has severe consequences for anyone who uses the private chat spaces of any social media platform, lawyers for the defense are arguing that although there may have been probable cause to see the correspondence between the members on their social postings, there was no warrant for them to go through their private chats. That, the lawyers insist, is tantamount to email messages, which are illegal to go through without a warrant.

The scariest part of the case was when the magnitude of information that the FBI is privy to was revealed and how many different messages they were allowed to rifle through to get to the evidence they used for arrest. It was noted that as many as 28,000 pages data were combed through from the personal correspondence of Joseph O’Shaughnessy, The Bundy Ranch and Shawna Cox alone.

Olson, lawyer for the defense, cited the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling finding that using email accounts to find evidence on defendants was an overreach of authority and that they should not have proceeded without a warrant.

Maintaining that if emails are considered private property and can not be entered into evidence or searched without a warrant, then private chats on social media pages such as Facebook should have the same protection. Under the fourth Amendment, going through the private social media accounts should have been protected against. There were no legal grounds for the widespread information to be gathered by the FBI revolving around the 23 defendants on trial.

The government prosecutor’s claim that they had to go through the private accounts to match the users and to sort out who was responsible. The only problem is that they could have easily found their identity without the need to go through any of their private correspondence, their personal chats or any of the other people that they chatted with. There was no mystery to who was using the accounts. In fact, Facebook is one of the most highly monitored sites when it comes to authentication.

The prosecutor’s defense is that they had reasonable probable cause to believe that the defendants were using Facebook to communicate with each other to conspire against the US government and plan for their takeover. They only requested account information to look for further information and that the case is not based solely on those private chats. Facebook may have been at the heart of their plan, exchanging photos, plans and sharing it to engage others in their ideas, but that was found only after the original suspicion. The FBI special agent who wrote the affidavit said they did so only to find the specifics of the case such as “who, what, when and where,” not the alleged criminality of their actions, just the actionable plan.

The real question is whether using social media sites to communicate with one another is the same as using email, or if it is subject to the public. Whether the private chats will be protected or not is the heart of the issue, and it will likely make or break the strength of the case against the 23 defendants. For those who use mediums such as Facebook, however, it poses a real privacy issue. One more reason to suspect that you should watch what you say; it could come back to haunt you. Apparently big brother is always watching.