Attorneys representing Facebook have been in court in Portland, Ore., this week, fighting attempts by lawyers to allow user content posted on the social network to be used as evidence in criminal trials. The issue has long been a contentious one, with Facebook citing the 1986 Stored Communications Act that it says protects its roughly one billion users.
With lawyers arguing that they can gather just about every other type of evidence—from bank details, to medical history and cellphone records—why should electronic communications be exempt from the list? With police and prosecutors allowed to access Facebook information they deem to be useful in collaring criminals, as well as using suspects' Google search histories, tweets and the like, the current situation is thought to be unfair.
"There's this tension between one person's expectation of a right to privacy and another person's rights to defend themselves," says Portland defense attorney Lisa Ludwig. She feels that the eventual verdict by state judge Youlee You, who is presiding over the murder case—the defense lawyer is attempting to use a Facebook conversation as evidence—will have far-reaching consequences. Judge You has already accused Facebook's response to an earlier court order to turn the records over, as "frustrating" and "flippant."