Thursday, April 30, 2015

Facebook And Family Law by David Grisaffi

Facebook, in terms of number of members, is now the world's third largest country - beaten only by China and India. The sheer size of its "population" brings with it a huge number of complex legal questions and issues. Outside the virtual world, things commented upon, posted and "liked" can have very real ramifications, not the least of which can apply in the context of family law.

Many people now have a Facebook account. They will regularly interact with their own wall and view or interact with other people's walls. In doing so, they leave behind a virtual trail that can, and in many cases will, be used against them. Take the situation where a husband and wife have broken up; it does not take much imagination to see how or why information, which is freely accessible to the other party, could be accessed, downloaded, printed and lodged in Court. Even when a husband or wife "unfriends" their separated partner, what of their mutual "friends" who may be allowing their aggrieved spouse to view and access their information?


Outwith the context of husband and wife, it is also easy to foresee a situation where photographs uploaded by a child and accessed by their parent could end up in court to be used against the other parent in some way. Photographs of a child's drawings on the living room wall that one parent views as innocent could be used as evidence that the parent cannot control the child. Photographs of a gathering of friends could be used to illustrate that one parent leads a wild lifestyle that is inappropriate for the care of a child. Things said, commented upon or liked can all be printed and put before the eyes of the Court. In the cold light of day, it becomes apparent that a picture still tells a thousand words.

Privacy settings can go some way in limiting who can access your information and how they can interact with that. However, as mentioned above, that doesn't prevent a friend, or someone pretending to be a friend, from accessing your information. Furthermore, information that you believe is secure may be accessible by someone who knows enough about you to take a few well educated guesses at your password. Facebook of course, assists this by providing evidence of your likes, your family members, your pet's name and so on.

For example, if you add your mother as a family member and your mother has both her married name and maiden name visible, the usual password of your mother's maiden name no longer seems so secure. This is particularly so if the person trying to access your account knows your date of birth. "Smith81" is now not looking as secure a password as you once thought it was.

Information may also be accessible through more insidious means, such as through the employment of personal investigators specialised in accessing electronic information. The methods in which this information is obtained may not be legal or appropriate, but once the information is in the hands of an opponent, there may be little you can do to stop it being redistributed anywhere and to anyone.

It is trite to say that one should be wary of what information one releases online. However, in cases involving complex emotional and legal issues, this is especially important. It is easy to forget that the information we distribute freely may end up in the wrong hands or be used for purposes that could not have been imagined when that information was shared. It is important to remain wary about the possible uses of information which is shared without a thought, but which may be thought about more considerably in different surroundings.
Never give your true date of birth online. If someone has your name, address and date of birth, they can steal your identity.




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