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‘Friends’ can share your Facebook profile with the government, court rules

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A federal judge has ruled that investigators can go through your Facebook (s fb) profile if one of your friends gives them permission to do so. The decision, which is part of a New York City racketeering trial, comes as courts struggle to define privacy and civil liberties in the age of social media.

In an order issued on Friday, US District Judge William Pauley III ruled that accused gangster Melvin Colon can’t rely on the Fourth Amendment to suppress Facebook evidence that led to his indictment. Colon had argued that federal investigators violated his privacy by tapping into his profile through an informant who was one of this Facebook friends.

The informant’s Facebook friendship served to open an online window onto Colon’s alleged gangster life, revealing messages he posted about violent acts and threats to rival gang members. The government used this information to obtain a search warrant for the rest of Colon’s Facebook account. The Colon information is part of a larger investigation into crack-dealing and murder in the Bronx.

Judge Pauley III’s ruling is significant because it is the latest in a series of cases that defines how and when police can search social media.

In the Bronx case, the judge found that Colon couldn’t stop his Facebook friends doing what they liked with the information he revealed:

Colon’s legitimate expectation of privacy ended when he disseminated posts to his “friends” because those “friends” were free to use the information however they wanted-including sharing it with the Government.

To support this position, Judge Pauley III cited a case that confirmed the government can listen in on phone calls without a warrant provided that one of the people on the call gives it permission to do so.

Ironically, Colon’s current account suggests that the government’s ability to peruse Facebook profiles may have become even easier since the introduction of the Facebook Timeline. The feature can in some cases reveal past events and status updates to the public unless a user changes his or her privacy settings.

What appears to be Colon’s account (cited in the court case as “Mellymella Balla” in the Bronx) can now be seen by the public. Here is a screenshot from his profile:

The case may also raise the question of whether social media companies are providing an adequate explanation of their privacy settings to all Americans. You can read the ruling itself here:

Facebook Privacy Ruling

(Image by Fisun Ivan via Shutterstock)

23 Responses to “‘Friends’ can share your Facebook profile with the government, court rules”

  1. Lorenzo Johnson

    From my first day of joining Facebook [back in 2007] I knew from the jump that I didn’t “TOTALLY” trust it to hold my private information. Therefore I did not post it if I could avoid it. Hell, before I even joined Facebook I found out that my picture was up there because it was caught in a shot that involved others. I told the owner to REMOVE ME IMMEDIATELY. I take Facebook exactly as it is. A vehicle to communicate and share information. No more and no less. So if I do not want information shared then why the hell would I post it on Facebook? That’s like entering the Lions Den and expecting to not get eaten alive. Who does that? Like someone said earlier, this is a great IDIOT filter.

  2. Voigemast Virgo

    some talked about stupiness – those who never understand the meaning of truth – those are first stupid.
    in many countrys fb is only way to say how things really are. dont be stupid with your stupid fantasys.
    but its possible there are quiet idiots who just cant see nothing. they are just slaves inside or slaves of politics. try to wake them up, because they not able to do with themself.

  3. That´s why I rely far more on typewriters and the pen rather than the keyboard. Basically the keyboard is a totally unreliable information source. You cannot let a computer run the course of information single handedly. But you can let pen communication and typewritten communication do that. Not computers. If you want your information protected , don´t publish it online. That´s also why I avoid adding no conspiracy theorists or bullies on my FB page. I know that they´re likely to share my page with America´s domestic enemies (the U.S. Federal Government). On my page , I take it very seriously if attempts are made to treat the U.S. Federal Government positively , especially if such attempts are made by people who are born and who reside in the USA.

  4. ForTheSakeOfAnimals

    and do you think that your notice is legal? See when you signed up for your profile in the very beginning there was a box you had to check agreeing to their terms. Shame on you if you did not review those terms and policies prior to accepting the account. Most read something like this: “By continuing you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.” You my friend posting that notice on your profile after already agreeing to their terms is like the old saying about locking the barn after the horse ran away. See the time to lock the barn was before that happened but Facebook is cool and everyone’s doing it so we will agree to anything and cry after it screws us up the ass. Right? Think about it and don’t trust your new found facebook lawyer who told you to post that notice. Dig through your YellowBook to get a free consult from a real lawyer or call a Psychic they can’t be any more misleading then the people you meet on Fakebook.

  5. Brian Malec

    I have this posted in the “About Me” section on FB:
    Warning – any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you DO NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/ or the comments made about my photo’s or any other “picture” art posted on my profile. You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein. The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee(s), agent(s), student(s) or any personnel under your direction or control. The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law.

    • Toni Nguyen

      You are assuming your permission is needed, Malec. It is not and what you are saying there is irrelevant. You can not stop me from looking through your site and using it as evidence against you. All it tells me is you have an attitude.

  6. Damian Amberg

    If you have nothing to hide, who gives a crap who looks at what you post. If you are stupid enough to break the law and then even more stupid to post it on social media to brag about it, you deserve every day you spend in jail. This is a great moron filter for the public.

  7. Voigemast Virgo

    well, there is real other things @ facebook – even you made most of your posts public – looks like fb sells you anyway to gouvernment, – when you do nothing but say the truth. parliament and gouvernment brakes terribly Constitution of Estland (estonia) more than 20.years – talked much about it and now my fb account is not visible not any more, and i can not access to my account. fb dont know the meaning of word freedom, means fb ,developers, . they sell you to corrupted politics. other thing is, that every scamback may complain about you – its the same when idiot go,s to police and just bluff about you, and nobody cares. i had only one account @ fb with my real name. facebook just dont care about nothing – total disorder – no one to contact. and when you do – they just dont reply. amazing social media fb … Virgo Voigemast

  8. Well Americans, thank-you for another example of our Glorious ‘Patriot Act’. Oh, I’m sorry for my sarcastically motivated comment. I am waiting for the Constitution to be constituted. Give me liberty or give me…..Patriot Act, no Constitution…martial law, no gun control…look, since you do things without asking me, just continue to let me know what you’ve done so I can continue to adjust. What a wonderful, non dictated society I live in. Excuse me now, while I change or eliminate my Facebook.

    • how are you so up in arms about this? This is no different than writing a letter to a friend and then your friend turning that letter over to the authorities. If you dont want your information public then do not go on facebook. Nothing to do with politics, government, or any kind of rights limitations. Please go educate yourself since you clearly have not opened a book in years.

      • Chick-fi-lied

        This more like you show your friend your desk and the cop kick the doors down to get your desk…

        Reminds me of

        You wouldn’t download a car
        would ya

    • lakawak

      kbooder…what a complete embarrassment you are. This case has NOTHING to do with the Patriot Act. You have to be a complete idiot to think that if you willingly give information to someone else that that person can’t tell the authorities about it. This is true whether it is on FAcebook, an e-mail, or FACE TO FACE.

    • Tim and lakawak have it exactly right. This dufus made information known to his friends, and one of them turned him in. This is exactly what we want to happen. This is a common sense ruling by the judge. Oh, and you’re right, kbooder, about Facebook. Its purpose is to share information. If you don’t want someone else to see your information, don’t post it or don’t have a FB account in the first place. It’s your choice.

    • To begin with with, I’m enjoying each and every reply. I would like to inform my very enthusiastic readers that one, I do read…lol, that was the cutest reply. My response has nothing to do with the actions of the young man. His foolishness and arrogance got him what he deserved. The disdain I tried to express was over the fact, that thru others blatent disregard for the law, in an effort to control them, another liberty, has been taken away. Example, some fool, goes to the movies with weapons. Now, my right to bear arms is being questioned, and new gun control laws will be instituted. Good you say, until you or your families safety is compromised, an then you are left to?

      • Hahahaha……I’m as law abiding as the next law abiding citizen, and you can trust that just as you trust your government wouldn’t do anything like, add a known poison to your water, or tell you aspartme is ok in your food. How many laws do they break against us? Are these the questions you ask? No, but ya ask me. Suggestion….turn your t.v. off for two weeks, I personally don’t watch that ‘ please program me box’. WAKE UP PEOPLE. Study up on MK ULTRA, Unit 731, and anything related to what goes on that they pray the masses don’t get concerned with and involved in.