November 03, 2017
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
Michael L. Fox, assistant professor of business law and pre-law advisor at Mount Saint Mary College, discussed internet privacy and the reach of the American justice system on November 2.
According to Michael L. Fox, assistant professor of business law and pre-law advisor, “private” social media posts might not be so confidential when it comes to a court case.
Internet privacy in relation to law was the topic of Fox’s recent talk at the Mount, “Social Media and the Impact on Law and Business,” which took place on campus on November 2.
Fox pointed to several recent court cases that involved social media as evidence, highlighting the legal intricacies involved in establishing whether or not a person’s social media account can be used as evidence in a trial. In most cases, he explained, it can, and it will be.
Everything digital – from electronic documents to social media posts to digital planners – can be fair game in an investigation, he explained.
For example, a recording from Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, was recently used as evidence in a homicide trial, and a Fitbit smart watch’s location tracking feature came in handy when a husband’s story didn’t match up with the details of his wife’s murder.
Even privacy settings that lock down social media accounts from public access are only so secret, as everything can be tracked via internal data from a computer or the social media site itself.
Of course, just because someone has a social media presence does not mean that it’s always relevant to the investigation, explained Fox. In order to be used in a trial, the evidence must meet several criteria. For example, the lawyer must present some kind of factual predicate, or logical connection, between viewing the person’s social media account and the case. Additionally, the information received has to be authenticated, or proven to be connected to that particular person. This authentication can be obtained by asking the person if they created the account or post, searching the computer to see if metadata supports the evidence, or obtaining information from the social media site confirming the link to that person.
His students aren’t the only ones Fox instructs on social media laws: In addition to his duties as a professor at the Mount, he also trains judges and lawyers on social media laws, a pertinent topic in the study of law as a result of social media’s widespread influence in all aspects of modern American life.
Fox’s talk was the latest in the iROC series at the Mount, the goal of which is to “provide a forum for Mount faculty, staff, and students to showcase their research endeavors with both Mount Saint Mary College and the local community in a manner easily understood by attendees,” explained series coordinators Evan Merkhofer, assistant professor of biology, and Jennifer Park, assistant librarian for access and outreach services. Presentations include research proposals, initial data collection, and completed research projects.