Social Media is undoubtedly one of the standout features of life in the new millennium. Facebook claims to have more than one billion active users and there are more than 200 million active Twitter users. But if you think your tweets and status updates are just between you and your friends, law enforcement and other government agents think otherwise. They can exploit the limited privacy protection available under the law to use photos, messages and other data as evidence in criminal cases.
The Fourth Amendment provides you with protection from being searched without a warrant. But government agencies have found ways to get around constitutional protections and get hold of information from social media sites by using, for example, the Stored Communications Act of 1986 as a means of obtaining incriminating evidence without the need for a warrant. Government agents have also been known to make deals with “Facebook friends” to serve as government witnesses, granting them access to private information concerning the defendant.
If you are facing a criminal charge, you and your defense lawyer may not have that same freedom to access information and evidence helpful to your case from social media sites as government agencies do. Unlike government entities, you need to obtain court permission to subpoena a social media company for information regarding an alleged victim or witness. Even then, the court may find the evidence to be private and unavailable to you without the consent of the account owner.
The law concerning when your tweets and posts on social media can be used against you in criminal proceedings can be complicated.