By Jessica Rubery
In recent years, social media has been utilized by people all over the world to communicate and display their lives to whomever they wish to allow to view it. Many social media sites allow users to use various privacy settings in order to prevent people from viewing their profile pages. However, users can also allow their profiles to be public, allowing anyone on the web to see what they post. If a user opts to have their profile public, it is very easy for legal professionals to view the profile and gather information. While police would likely need a warrant for anything privately sent, if a post is permitted to be shared with the public, law enforcement can also view it. The fact that law enforcement is able to view public social media accounts without a warrant is helping them and private investigators prevent fraud in cases.
Recently, private investigators have even developed tools such as “Social Detection” to do what used to take hours. Alfred Ng, Social media is a gold mine for detectives busting scams, cnet (Nov. 4, 2016). The technology allows private investigators to obtain information from a person’s public social media account in order to be used in cases and investigations. The idea for such a tool came about when one private investigator in the early 2000s was able to determine a party to a lawsuit was committing fraud. Further, in more recent cases the software was able to find information on claimants who used their middle names instead of their first, or even if the person used a fake name all together. Often, the software finds out the information by post by not only the claimants’ pages, but also their family members’ pages.
Tools like this and even simply searching social media for a person’s public post can help prevent fraudulent cases and even help solve some cases. While there may be a privacy concern, if the person’s post or their family member’s post is not selected as private, anyone can see it, even the police and private investigators, without the need for warrant because the information is out in the public sphere of the internet. Granted, while no Supreme Court ruling has been decided, because the posts are in the public for anyone to view, police and investigators would likely not need a warrant.
While there are some privacy concerns, one benefit of this kind of software is what it does for the overburdened judicial system. By allowing police and private investigators to detect when fraudulent cases are occurring, it allows courts to dismiss cases quicker and perhaps even prevent them from being brought in the first place. In preventing fraud and reducing cases quicker, the currently overburden judicial system could become less burdened and truly benefit.
Overall, while there are some privacy concerns, there are certain issues mitigated by certain things. The fact that the software and the investigators only look at public posts, the privacy concerns are somewhat mitigated. In addition, this technique could aid in reducing the overburdened judicial system. This technique seems as though it could be rather useful.
Student Bio: Jessica is a Lead Blog Editor on the Journal of High Technology Law. She is currently a 3L at Suffolk Law. She possesses a B.S. in Legal Studies and Foreign Language from Roger Williams University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.