Be careful what you put on the Internet. It’s a saying we’ve heard time and time again, whether it was said by your parents or technology experts. In many situations, the information you put on the Internet can be accessed by anyone. Instead of it being your personal information, it becomes public information.
But at what point does this stop being the case? Can or do sites, such as Facebook, protect its users from instances of other people accessing user information and using it against them? We bring up these questions to our North Carolina readers because of a case out of New York that is illustrating just such a conundrum. And whatever is decided in the case, may have far reaching consequences in other jurisdictions.
The case we are referring to is that of a woman who is suing the Drug Enforcement Administration after it accessed information on her personal Facebook in order for the DEA to create a fake Facebook page under her name. The agency explains that this unique tactic was in an effort to gather information for their investigation into a possible drug distribution ring investigators believed the woman was a part of.
She pleaded guilty to drug charges in January 2012.
There are three issues at hand here. The first is that even though the agency claims that the woman gave consent to access the information on her Facebook, some have speculated that she was not sure what she was consenting to. If she had known the real purpose behind the agency’s request, she may not have given consent in the first place.
The second issue is that Facebook has clear guidelines for law enforcement officers who wish to access a user’s profile. According to these guidelines, if a user gives consent to law enforcement to obtain information from their profile, the user must be the one to obtain said information, not the officer.
In addition to these guidelines, Facebook ‘s policies are clear that a user cannot “create an account for anyone other than [themselves] without permission [from Facebook].”
Though it’s unknown if this case will affect the woman’s conviction, it does highlight an important issue for our North Carolina readers. It calls into question our understanding of our privacy rights and what information police can use during investigations.