Discovery, Privacy, Personal Freedom and Social Media

I don’t see myself as a hero because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity. 

Edward Snowden

There is an assault on our privacy.  We need look no further than headlines involving Russian hacking of our government and political institutions such as story reported by The NY Times today. The assault on our client’s privacy is also underway as part of the civil discovery process.  Attorneys now seek to rummage through a client’s social media accounts and demand usernames and passwords to accomplish this invasion of privacy without any factual basis or good cause.

Fishing expeditions are not allowed. Here is the objection I use:

Objection, this request is overly broad and unduly burdensome. See Ind. T.R. 26(B)(1). Further, this request is non-specific and calls for a general fishing expedition which is prohibited under Indiana law in violation of the reasonable particularity requirement of Ind. T.R. 34(B). See Canfield v. Sandock, 563 N.E.2d 526 at 529-531(Ind. 1991). The simple fact that a claimant has had social communications is not necessarily probative of the issues in this case.  See Rozell v Ross-Holst,2006 WL 163143 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 20, 2006).  There is no general right to have access to an entire Facebook account and such a request is no different than requesting the right to search through a party’s entire house, office, or wherever making the request a “fishing expedition”.  See also, McCann v. Harleysville Ins. Co. of New York , 78 A.D.2d 1524 (N.Y. A.D. 2010)(Defendant “failed to establish a factual predicate and essentially sought permission to conduct a fishing expedition into plaintiff’s Facebook account based on the mere hope of finding relevant evidence which is not allowed); Tompkins v. Detroit Metro. Airport, No. 10-10413, (E.D. Mich. Jan. 18, 2012)(Defendant does not have a generalized right to rummage at will through information that Plaintiff has limited from public view and engage in the proverbial fishing expedition, in the hope of finding something on a Facebook account.).

Social media may be discoverable “specifically “, but certainly should not be invaded “generally”. Privacy matters to us all and must be honored even in this day of pervasive electronic communications and connections.

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About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on December 14, 2016, in computer, Discovery, Evidence, Facebook, Fishing expedition, Privacy, Rule 26, Rule 34, Trial Rules. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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