Under the federal Stored Communications Act, Facebook and other electronic communication services, are expressly prohibited from handing over private user communications to others. While the legislation makes sense regarding user privacy, it presents serious problems for people facing criminal charges in court. Every American has the right to a fair trial and due process, but some argue that the SCA can infringe upon those rights.
The Stored Communications Act is of particular interest to Lance Touchstone, a Californian who is currently awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge, The Recorder reports. Touchstone’s lawyers take issue with being unable to access the Facebook profile of the man their client is accused of shooting. Touchstone’s lead lawyer, Katherine Tesch, contends that the SCA infringed upon his constitutional rights. The issue was raised at the lower appellate court.
Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the people’s right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” However, there isn’t a consensus over expectations of privacy in terms of recorded and/or transmitted information. The Stored Communications Act is meant to address the voluntary and compelled disclosure of “stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records” held by third-party internet service providers (ISPs).
The Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal ruled that a criminal defendant (Touchstone in this case) did not have the right to compel Facebook to disclose the contents of a user’s private account. Now, the California Supreme Court is considering the issue of whether a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to mine a person’s social media records for potentially exculpatory contents, according to the article. The California Supreme Court’s acceptance to hear Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court, and the ultimate outcome, could shape the future of how and when Facebook must turn over private user information about third-party witnesses in criminal cases.
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If you are charged with a criminal offense, please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower. Attorney Brower has the experience to help you achieve the best possible outcome.