Social networking websites have often found their place in court, especially during voir dire or criminal proceedings. Yet again, social networking sites are being used, but now in a different context.
In a Connecticut divorce proceeding, a judge is requiring that a couple submit their social networking passwords to the court. Attorneys of both parties are to exchange passwords for their clients’ Facebook and dating websites. Such evidence is being used to help evaluate how each party feels about their children, and their ability to take care of them. Essentially, these passwords are being used to help resolve a custody battle.
The court issued an injunction to deter both parties from deleting any material on the websites, and ordered the attorneys to exchange passwords. It has also been ordered that neither party will go on the websites of the other and post any messages, status updates, etc.
There are mixed reactions to the judge’s orders. People are objecting because they feel this is an invasive discovery tactic which invades the privacy of the other party. People log onto their social networking sites almost every day, sharing thoughts, exchanging communication, and revealing information about them. Is it really fair to have all of these expressions used in court?
Divorce proceedings in particular are sensitive because they deal with the dissolution of a valued institution, as well as potential custody issues regarding children. Can a judge really evaluate parents’ true personas and abilities as caretakers from information on these sites? Many feel that these sites only reveal everyday expressions that are not relevant to an individual’s caretaking abilities. Moreover, such information is an invasion of privacy and may be used unfairly to determine if a person is fit to take care of his or her child.
Of course there is another side to this argument. This tactic does compromise Facebook’s policy of not exchanging passwords. It also invades someone’s privacy. However, when an individual enters into legal proceedings, it is expected that a certain amount of private information is revealed. Unfortunately, this is a natural consequence of litigation; there are times when a door is opened, and the other side learns of personal information. Therefore, many feel that there is nothing wrong with the judge’s order. Common sentiments are that this information will increase our legal system’s ability to make the “proper” decision.
A potential solution that people have proposed is to label any printed documents from these sites as “privileged.” Therefore, this information will fall under the attorney-client privilege and will not be submitted into evidence. People, however, need to better educate themselves on this privilege.
A client cannot just “put” information into the protection of privilege because it may be pertinent evidence. The attorney-client privilege ensures that communication between attorneys and clients, be it written or oral, will be confidential. Further the work product doctrine falls into this privilege and ensures that an attorney’s mental impressions and/or work put into the case will remain confidential. The other side may never obtain the attorney’s mental impressions.
However if a significant showing of necessity is pleaded in court, then a party may obtain work product such as interviews, reports, notes documenting meetings, etc. Overall, the court does establish guidelines on what information can be privileged. Clients cannot just put any information they want into the “privilege bubble.”
All in all, as technology consumes our lives, it also finds its way into court. Lawyers already use sites such as Facebook to learn about jurors and/or defendants in criminal proceedings. It is only natural that such a tactic be used in other legal proceedings as well, such as ones involving divorce.