You know what the “E” in email stands for, right?
Potentially anything you put online is subject to discovery, with different limitations.
Before I go any further, please note:
You have little to no right to privacy in your “private” online information and posts
The preliminary requirement of a discovery request is it must seek information “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” (which is broad). In some state and all federal courts, the requested information must also be “proportional to the needs of the case.” These provisions, along with objections, temper the power of party-opponents to seek anything and everything from the other side.
Scope of online account/social media discovery power is uncertain
Discovery requests are often limited on other grounds. A request cannot be so overbroad as to be overly burdensome, oppressive nor cause annoyance or embarrassment (emphasis on embarrassment, amirite or amirite?). These rules, along with proportionality requirements, are why courts stop short of requiring people to give out their usernames and passwords to the other side in a dispute willy-nilly. That would be a fishing expedition.
“Fishing expeditions” are still generally off-limits
Tempering fishing expeditions
Some courts have required complete disclosure of information online. Especially in some very rare cases where certain types of emotional damages are sought or a party outright refuses to comply with discovery requests. (See, e.g., Largent v. Reed, 2011 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec., LEXIS 612, 2011 WL 5632688 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. 2011).)
Best practices to avoid complete disclosure of account credentials
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I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. I do not purport to be a substitute for the advice of counsel on any specific matter. For legal advice, you should consult with an attorney about your specific situation.
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Author: Ryan Ullman
Law student, productivity buff, blogger, flow-seeker. Loves the outdoors and coffee.