Technology is developing so rapidly that the law is oftentimes a few steps
behind. This is the case in criminal law as it applies to social media
sites like Facebook. Federal law enforcement agents have been asking for
warrants to search defendants’ private Facebook accounts and these
requests are being granted more and more, and some people believe this
trend will lead to legal challenges.
According to a Reuters analysis of a Westlaw database, the warrants were
granted for the FBI, ICE and DEA for a variety of cases involving serious
violent crimes, such as
rape, terrorism and arson, and more than two dozen were granted since 2008.
Defendants may question whether these searches violated their civil rights,
specifically the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of illegal search
and seizure. The reason why many legal challenges have not already come
up could be that most of these individuals whose accounts have been searched
by law enforcement have not been notified that this happened.
According to an article on the subject in the International Business Times,
one of the cases involved four Satanists accused of arson in Ohio. These
individuals were sentenced to eight to ten years in prison for burning
down a church. An FBI agent was granted a warrant to search the Facebook
accounts of two of the people charged with arson. According to the IBT,
it is not known whether what was obtained in the search was used to convict
the individuals, but none of the defendants’ attorneys knew that
the search had occurred.
Once more people find out that their accounts were searched, legal challenges
to the evidence obtained in those searches may be seen. Little has been
specifically decided by the courts regarding what kind of reasonable expectation
of privacy people have these days with the information stored with third
parties online. It is likely that more will have to be hammered out around
this issue in the months and years to come.
Facing criminal charges? Arrested? Contact a
Baltimore criminal lawyer before you talk to police or anyone else.
Source: International Business Times, “A new U.S. law-enforcement
tool: Facebook searches,” Jeff John Roberts, 12 July 2011