Even though it’s been around for over twenty years, there aren’t many concrete laws regarding the internet. The FCC recently upheld net neutrality this past February, which means that internet users are protected against service providers who would charge premiums in order to provide better internet speeds. However, one key area of net neutrality that was avoided was privacy. In a recent New York state appeals court ruling, it was found that social media companies like Facebook cannot protect users against search warrants obtained by law enforcement officials to access users’ digital information. The fallout from this decision is fairly simple: your Facebook profile isn’t so private after all.
Many other tech companies such as Google, Pinterest, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yelp filed briefs in support of Facebook, knowing very well that digital privacy was at stake. The government has gone to these companies in the past when they were seeking access to social media accounts during criminal investigations. The biggest concern raised is that the government can obtain digital information from social media profiles and store them for an unlimited amount of time. Even if the person in question isn’t indicted, the government still has the authority to keep their information.
Recent cases over the years have seen courts side with the government over internet privacy on social media. The case that resulted in this ruling was a social security disability scam involving several hundred retired New York City police officers and firefighters. Law enforcement officials demanded Facebook hand over data that included photos, private messages, and other information without informing the people whose accounts were being searched. In the end, Facebook lost out and was forced to comply. Last year a federal judge even ruled that law enforcement officials can create fake social media profiles in order to search through a suspect’s account. The cases have all touched on the complexity of internet privacy and government interference.
Social media has become a much bigger part of mainstream culture, so it’s no surprise that the government and law enforcement officials are turning towards it in order to prevent and investigate crimes. The unfortunate reality is that companies like Facebook are unable to protect user information, and the users themselves are in the same boat. According to a 2014 LexisNexis survey, “the frequency of social media by law enforcement, while already high, is projected to rise even further in the coming years”. Your social media profile is suddenly becoming less and less private every day.