Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Getting Served on Facebook

There are quite a few people raising alarms over privacy on the Internet after this episode.

From ARS Technica:

The Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court has approved the use of Facebook to serve legal documents to a couple who was otherwise inaccessible at their home or by e-mail, although the couple has since disappeared from the social networking site as well.

The unnamed Australian couple had defaulted on their home loan for AUS$100,000 (almost US$67,000), which spurred the bank to seek the services of Canberra-based law firm Meyer Vandenberg. Attorney Mark McCormack was assigned to the case and unsuccessfully attempted to contact the couple several times at their home, and then again via e-mail. With nowhere else to turn, McCormack asked the Australian court to allow him to serve the papers electronically to the couple via Facebook.
Did this couple have their "right to privacy" violated? First, let's note that this actually occurred in Australia and I have no idea what their laws entail. If this happened in American, I would say that no, there was no violation, merely embarrassment.

If the couple is being served, then that means these documents, their name, and their money problems are already a matter of PUBLIC RECORD. That means any Joe can go and see this document.

Second, the court has an obligation to serve people, even if they are hiding from them. I know in divorce cases, the court will allow for publication in the local newspapers. Facebook is just another means of communicating with people, just like a newspaper.

Now some people have also brought up the idea that you could be late on a bill and that creditor would publish something on your Facebook. In most cases, creditors itself have privacy rules about release of private information and that scenario would be in violation of their own rules. Violating their owe rules gets them sued a lot so I doubt they would do that. But if they publish on Facebook, heck, anywhere on the internet, would that be a violation of some privacy law here in America? I don't really know today but I know in the past, business would post public lists of those behind on store credit on the front door to embarrass their patrons. (It worked too.)

The words "internet" and "privacy" just don't mix. I know in the Brazos Valley, all documents and mug shots are available for free to the public with a quick internet search. I spoke with one mother whose son was arrested for being public intoxicated. She really worries about a future employer finding this past indiscretion and her son losing a prospective job over it. Okay, worried isn't the best word - livid is more like it!

last thought: Did you know that there are groups that peruse the public records to find and publish for business this very information? You can receive list of home and vehicle foreclosures, new purchases, and even lists of those who started up monthly utilities in the mail, all legally obtained from public records. That's one of the ways that you get junk mail when you just moved in a week ago!

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