Pennsylvania Court Rules That There Is No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy in Facebook Postings

A Pennnsylvania trial judge recently ruled that a person had “no expectation of privacy” in Facebook postings and, therefore, the postings must be produced in lawsuit.

The case arose out of a chain-reaction auto accident. Plaintiff Keith Largent was driving a motorcycle, with plaintiff Jessica Largent as a passenger. At an intersection, defendant Jessica Rosko collided with a minivan, pushing the van into plaintiffs’ motorcycle. As a result of the crash, plaintiffs allege serious and permanent physical and mental injuries, pain, and suffering. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Rosko, alleging negligence and loss of consortium. Rosko filed an Answer and Counterclaim. During the deposition of plaintiff Jennifer Largent, defense counsel discovered that she has a Facebook profile, and that she last accessed it the night before the deposition. When asked about the Facebook account, Jennifer Largent refused to disclose any information about the account. Plaintiffs’ counsel later advised that he would not voluntarily turn over such information.

Defendant filed a Motion to Compel Plaintiff Jennifer Largent’s Facebook Login Information.  Defendant said that certain posts on Largent’s Facebook account contradict her claims of serious and severe injury. Specifically, Rosko claimed that Largent had posted several photographs that show her enjoying life with her family and a status update about going to the gym. Opposing the motion, defendant argued that disclosure of her Facebook account access information would cause unreasonable embarrassment and annoyance, and that disclosure violated state and federal privacy laws.

Acknowledging that no Pennsylvania appellate opinions addressed whether material contained on social networking websites is discoverable in a civil case, and that other trial courts across the country considering the issue had reached contradictory conclusions, the trial judge in this case held that “material on social networking websites is discoverable in a civil case.” The Court also held that no general privacy privilege protects Jennifer Largent’s Facebook material from discovery:

By definition, there can be little privacy on a social networking website. Facebook’s foremost purpose is to “help you connect and share with the people in your life.” That can only be accomplished by sharing information with others. Only the uninitiated or foolish could believe that Facebook is an online lockbox of secrets.

Although plaintiff complained that Rosko’s motion is akin to asking her to turn over all of her private photo albums and requesting to view her personal mail, the Court held that “[p]hotographs posted on Facebook are not [truly] private, and Facebook postings are not the same as personal mail.” Thus, the court found there is little harm in disclosing information on Facebook in discovery. As a result, the Court granted defendant’s motion to compel.

It appears that, no matter how users configure their privacy settings, the fact that users disclose postings and pictures to others on Facebook (and probably other social networking sites) erodes any privacy claim under the law.

The case is annexed here – Largent v. Reed