privacy laws

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What privacy rights do you have on social networks? Nearly everyday, civil litigators like myself and law enforcement officials request information from Facebook regarding user information.  Understandably, Facebook has been very difficult in responding to such requests, believing that users have a right to privacy concerning its users information. But how much right should users of social networks have over information that is of public record?

Many social networking sites have taken the position that they will not respond to requests for information without a subpoena.  This is a problem because users cannot obtain access to their accounts even if their account has been hacked.

This is especially problematic when it comes to the problem of cyber bullying. I have been trying to obtain records from Facebook for a client whose child whose account has been hacked by a cyber bully.  Facebook has been unwilling to provide information to me about my clients own account.

According to, the Deputy General Counsel of Facebook, Mark Howitson told lawyers at the Legal Tech Conference in New York today that they are ready to fight requests for user  information without a subpoena.

Unfortunately, you can only serve that subpoena in California which is problematic if you live in New York. Even with a subpoena, they will only provide basic subscriber information unless that user gives his or her consent.  The company believes that it does not have to provide user information under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act which was passed before Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, danced to his first disco tune at his bar mitzvah. Since this issue is relatively new, a congressional hearing is forthcoming.

Mr. Howiston suggests that the best way to obtain information from Facebook is to make a simple friend request, which is of little utility.

What do you think?  What right of privacy should you have on social networks?  Should there be a cyber bullying exception?

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There is a growing trend for companies to store information at a remote location, or a “cloud.” Whether you are using Google Docs or have remote servers physically located elsewhere, if you are collaborating with other people and information is not stored on your hard drive, you are probably “cloud computing.”

So who is effected by the move to Cloud Computing?  The move could impact companies such as software companies, internet service providers and hardware manufacturers. Companies in each of these industries will face a big change if more people turn to cloud computing to store their data.

Cloud computing is a terrific alternative for companies who have people working together on a project at different locations.  Because the costs are relatively low, cloud computing makes it easier to conduct business.  However if your business is engaged in posting user information online, you should be mindful of privacy and litigation issues.

Be aware of the types of documents that you post in the cloud and how it can be used by others. Businesses should be especially concerned about posting:

  • Business presentations
  • Employee work and health information
  • Tax and accounting records
  • Schedules and Calendars
  • Contracts
  • Trade Secrets
  • Confidential Consumer Information

If your company becomes involved in a litigation, your opposing counsel may ask your cloud hosting provider for access to company records. A business engaged in cloud computing must know that privacy laws vary depending on the physical location of your provider.

The liability and responsibility for any breach of privacy claims is something that a business needs to protect itself against. Companies can limit liability by having a properly drafted document retention policy.

For more reading about legal issues in cloud computing for lawyers, read Niki Black’s article in the Lawyerist.

If you have any questions regarding cloud computing, litigation and privacy law, contact me at the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666.

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