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NY Judge Finds Nothing Private About Facebook Postings

Published on September 29, 2010
by Aaron Rutkoff

Here’s an interesting legal development for those New Yorkers who chronicle their personal lives on Facebook: A Suffolk County judge presiding over a personal-injury lawsuit has ruled that material posted to online social networks–even what people post behind privacy settings–can be used as evidence in court.

That ruling, based on the judge’s interpretation of 1986 electronic communications law, would seem to establish a narrow definition of privacy for social-networking users in New York. In California, on the other hand, a judge interpreted the same statute to confer privacy on material posted to Facebook and MySpace. The rulings in each case only apply to the areas covered by their courts, unlike rulings made in federal appeals court or at the Supreme Court, which typically apply more broadly.

Forbes.com blogger Kashmir Hill spotted the differing legal rulings in New York and California. In the New York lawsuit, as Hill notes, a woman sued the manufacturer of an allegedly defective office chair, seeking damages for injuries sustained in 2003 when she fell out of her seat. Lawyers for the chair company sought to review material the woman posted to Facebook to determine whether her injuries were as severe as she claimed.

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