Your Fourth Amendment Rights Just Got Smaller (Again) When It Comes To Social Media

Facebook has just lost a major lawsuit in which it hoped to gain the right to deny search warrants on behalf of its users. How can this affect you? If you're ever suspected of a crime, just about everything you do online could become an open book for the prosecution. Read on to learn more.

An attempt to protect the privacy of users failed.

The case began with warrants for information on social media users who were suspected of disability fraud. The prosecution hoped to use photos, posts, and even private messages between users to show that as many as 381 people were faking disabilities.

The social media company fought back, saying that the request violated the Fourth Amendment rights of users against unreasonable search and seizure. Ultimately, the courts disagreed, and said that social media companies can't fight the warrants on the behalf of their users. Only individual users can challenge the warrants in court after they've been executed.

At that point, a user would have to hope that the court agreed that the warrant was overly broad or unreasonable in order to get any evidence obtained against them through that method thrown out.

This impacts all your online social media accounts.

The implication is clear: any social media account that you create - whether private or professional - is now subject to a search warrant. The warrant can be open-ended, and the company that receives the warrant will have to do all the mining on behalf of the prosecution.

The social media company may have to dig through not only what you post publicly online, but also through any private messages that you send to other users - things that you wouldn't want the entire world seeing and might otherwise think were actually private.

You can take specific steps to protect yourself.

First, never post anything or share anything in a message that you think could be used against you in court, whether you're involved in a criminal case or civil litigation, like a lawsuit over an accident. Even photos of you smiling at a birthday party could be used against you if you're claiming something like sick benefits due to depression.

Second, if you become involved in a lawsuit or the target of an investigation, get an attorney. Your attorney can challenge any warrant in court based on procedural grounds or because it is too broad (essentially calling it a "fishing expedition" for information to use against you).

Third, see if you can download your account information in order to look through it yourself, with your attorney, to see what might be a problem. That way, you can prepare for any problems in advance. The social media company involved in the recent lawsuit has made it possible for users to download all their account information into a zip file, just for that purpose.

If you have questions about your rights, visit a lawyer at