Our Comfortable Connection: The Information You Post Online Could Be Used Against You

Typing hands Minnesota Snow Storm

On Saturday morning, we awoke to a snow storm; our first snow of the season. This is not an unexpected event in Minnesota. Yet this snow was thick, heavy and wet. The kind of snow we get in March. The snow was coming down hard and fast and had already blanketed everything in sight. This is the kind of snow that takes down tree limbs and power lines. We lost electricity at a little before 10:00 a.m. on Saturday and we didn't get it back until Sunday evening.

It was an overcast day and a dark night. At this time of year in Minnesota it's dark by 5:00 p.m., and soon it will be dark by 4:00 p.m. Our nightly routine came early. We ordered pizza and ate in the dark with only the light of a flashlight.

Lights Out

I always find that to be without electricity makes my brain fuzzy and groggy. It's disorienting. Once it's dark, I feel unfocused and distracted. It's unnatural for me. I still try to turn on lights or run a load of laundry or get online.

To be unable to connect to the Internet and do some work, do research for a post, check in on Facebook and Twitter or go through email is quite isolating. I fire up the 'ol laptop and do a quick check of email, blog stats, etc. almost every morning and the computer pretty much stays on, connected to the Internet the rest of the day. This weekend was different; I was disconnected from the rest of the world. While I do have a smart phone that is indeed connected to the world wide web at all times, the battery died and I couldn't charge that either.

Dependence on the Internet

We, as a society, have become dependent on the Internet. We stay connected with friends and family with email, social media sites and Skype; we pay bills; we shop; we check the weather and read the latest news; we look up information; we watch music videos and movies and stream music; and myriad other things. It's a lifeline to the isolated. It connects the world.

Our almost universal use of the Internet and the comfort level with which we have with it, can also get us into trouble. People have lost their jobs because of things they said about employers or other employees; soldiers have been disciplined and missions changed or abandoned due to information revealed; identities have been stolen; and predators have preyed upon victims.

Employee Fired for Disparaging Facebook Comments

Our use of the Internet is changing laws and how courts operate. Just last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut that fired an employee, who had been reprimanded for attempting to join a union, after she posted critical comments on a social networking site.

The NLRB stated that the firing violated the employee's federally protected workplace rights. American Medical Response insists the employee was let go based on "multiple, serious complaints about her behavior," and "was also held accountable for negative personal attacks against a co-worker posted publicly on Facebook."

American Medical Response reportedly has a policy forbidding employees from discussing the company on social networking sites. The NLRB equates the discussion about the supervisor with other employees on Facebook with employee discussions at the water cooler in years prior to the predominance of social networking sites. American Medical Response believes that the offensive statements made by the discharged employee and fellow employees were not concerted activity protected under federal law.

An Administrative Law Judge will hear this case on January 25, 2011. I'll be watching this case.

Source: NYT, National Law Journal, www.switched.com

Courts Allow Access to Social Networking Sites

If you're like me, you have your Facebook security set to the highest level. So, it's safe, right? You're free to post any information or pictures you wish your "Friends" to see. Not necessarily.

Recently, there have been two cases, one in New York and one in Pennsylvania, where the courts have ruled in favor of allowing access to information from social networking accounts. Both cases involve injuries claimed to be restrictive and extensive, and in both cases photos and other information accessible online showed the claimants smiling and involved in restricted activities.

In Romano v. Steelcase, the case from New York, Romano had fallen off an office chair sustaining "serious permanent personal injuries." Yet her public profiles on Facebook and MySpace "reveal[ed] that she has an active lifestyle and can travel and apparently engages in many other physical activities inconsistent with her claims in this litigation." Therefore, Steelcase, served Romano with a request for discovery asking for "authorizations to obtain full access to and copies of Plaintiff's current and historical records/information on her Facebook and MySpace accounts." She, of course, refused.

The Court ruled "it is reasonable to infer from the limited postings on Plaintiff's public Facebook and MySpace profile pages, that her private pages may contain materials and information that are relevant to her claims or that may lead to the disclosure of admissible evidence." When considering privacy expectations, the Court found "as neither Facebook nor MySpace guarantee complete privacy, Plaintiff has no legitimate reasonable expectation of privacy."

In McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc., McMillen "alleged significant and substantial injuries, some of which he claimed may be permanent." Defendants discovered posts, accessing only the public parts of McMillen's Facebook page, they contended showed McMillen had exaggerated his injuries.

McMillen argued that the Court should "recognize communications shared among one's private friends on social network computer sites as confidential and thus protected against disclosure." However, the Court found that while it's plausible that a person could use Facebook and MySpace "as forums to divulge and seek advice on personal and private matters, it would be unrealistic to expect that such disclosures would be considered confidential."

In both cases, the court forced the plaintiffs to hand over passwords for full access.

Sources: www.Law.com , Romano v. Steelcase and McMillen v. Hummingbird Speedway, Inc. slip opinions

The Digital Footprint of an Average Two Year-Old

A recent study conducted by Anti-virus software company AVG, polling more than 2,000 mothers in 10 Western countries found 81% of children under the age of two currently have some form of online presence. This presence ranges from photos online to a social media account in the child's name with a profile. Other findings from the AVG study, according to J.R. Smith at AVG blogs:

  1. The average age at which a child acquires an online presence courtesy of their parents is at six months;
  2. A third (33%) of children have had images posted online from birth;
  3. A quarter (23%) of children have even had their pre-birth scans uploaded to the Internet by their parents;
  4. Seven percent (7%) of babies have even had an email address created for them by their parents;
  5. More than 70% of mothers said they posted baby and toddler images online to share with friends and family.

Mr. Smith cautioned parents to think about the kinds of information they upload about their children because this information will follow him or her for the rest of his or her life.

Sources: www.Mashable.com and www.publicradio.org

The Scoop

The moral of the story is to be sensible and conservative when posting pictures and information about yourself, your whereabouts, your children, your employer or fellow employees. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when conversing with friends online. It's easy to forget that you aren't alone in your conversation; other friends, agencies, predators could be "watching." No, you don't have to go shut down all of your social networking accounts and take all of your photos offline. But you should ask yourself two things before you post it on the Internet: 1. Is this information or photo conveying the wrong impression? and 2. Could this information be used against me (or child or spouse, etc.)?

On Wednesday, I will post tips for ensuring you are safe and secure while interacting on the Internet. Over and out…

Anna

You might also like:

Welcome to the 21st Century: Laws to Protect Children Using the Internet

Walking a Fine Line: Social Host Laws and Underage Drinking

The Right to Bear Arms in Your Home: McDonald v. City of Chicago

www.MotherlyLaw.com

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