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Telling Facebook Friends Means Telling the World

Facebook logo for post about disclosing information to Facebook friendsThis post explains something that we all should know intuitively. If you disclose information to your Facebook friends, you potentially have disclosed it to the entire world.

Matthew Richard Palmieri was a contractor for the United States. He lost his industrial security clearance after the government investigated certain of his activities.

Palmieri brought suit (without a lawyer) against various government agencies and officials in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit identified 30 ways in which the defendants allegedly violated his rights.

Alleged Fourth Amendment Violation

For the purposes of this post, we will focus on Palmieri’s allegation that his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure was violated because the government accessed his Facebook account.

In its opinion (Palmieri v. United States), the court noted the following facts.

  • The government did not hack his Facebook account.
  • The government did not subpoena information from Facebook.
  • Instead, the government obtained information that was voluntarily disclosed by one of Palmieri’s Facebook friends.
Telling Facebook Friends = No Expectation of Privacy

The court then provided the following analysis.

  • Once Palmieri disclosed information to his Facebook friends, they were free to use it as they wished.
  • Accordingly he had no reasonable expectation of privacy concerning that information.
  • Thus he cannot claim a Fourth Amendment violation.

The court noted that, similarly, anyone who sends an email (or write a letter) loses any expectation of privacy once the email (or letter) is delivered.

In summary, if you want to keep information private, don’t disclose it to your Facebook friends – or to anyone else.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

Privacy, Social Media