Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Courts Cutting the Gordian Knot of Technology and Privacy

Just when you think the law is complicated enough… technological advances lead to new dilemmas. The problem is most evident in legal issues related to text messaging and social networking. Here are a few examples.

1. In November, the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee decided that judges may not “friend” attorneys on Facebook who may appear in their court. Meanwhile, the South Carolina Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct allows judges to “friend” law enforcement officers and employees as long as the judge does not communicate things concerning his position. (See article on Legal Blog Watch.)

2. Last week, two cases were dismissed in Maryland because jurors were using Wikipedia and Facebook. In one case, the jurors were trying to look up scientific terms on Wikipedia. In the other, five jurors became Facebook friends. The lawyers complained that they created a clique and changed the jury dynamic. (See the article in ABA Journal.)

3. Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to listen to a case concerning text messaging and the police from Ontario, California. Police Chief, Jeff Quon, sued three officers for sending sexually explicit messages on city-owned devices. However, the officers are complaining that their boss read their text messages. The officers argue that the Ontario Police Department verbally assured its employees that their messages would not be reviewed unless there were charges beyond the service contract. Meanwhile, the police department’s written policy had no such protections. Read these articles from and the Los Angeles Times for more information.

These issues will continue to grow. Keep an eye out for new developments.