Divorcing Couple Ordered to Exchange Social Media Passwords

By now everyone should know that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. can provide fertile ground for discovering information about your neighbour, your kids and most importantly, your ex-wife. Recently Judge Kenneth Schluger ordered a divorcing Connecticut couple, Stephen and Courtney Gallion, to exchange their Facebook and dating website passwords.

It seems that Mr. Gallion found some incriminating information about his wife while surfing the web on the computer he shared with her. Courtney Gallion had posted comments about their children and her feelings about their role in her life that her husband thought might be useful for him in his goal to obtain custody of their children.

During a deposition of Ms. Gallion, her husband’s lawyer asked her to provide passwords for her Facebook account and two dating sites she had joined: EHarmony and Match. Her lawyer initially refused to reveal the passwords but later relented.

Upon releasing the passwords, Ms. Gallion texted a close friend and asked her to change the passwords and delete some messages she had posted. That’s when the matter came before Judge Schluger as Mr. Gallion sought to prevent his wife from deleting messages and asked the judge to order the exchange of passwords.

The Court made the orders sought and directed that neither of the parties could visit the websites of the other and post messages purporting to be the other.

But it is not just divorce cases where social media can play an evidentiary role. In a case in Pennsylvania a professional racecar driver sued the owner of a motor speedway for injuries suffered during a race.

The Court ordered the plaintiff to provide his Facebook and MySpace passwords which revealed photos of a fishing trip and a jaunt to the Daytona 500 which undermined the plaintiff’s assertions of physical injury. (McMillan v. Hummingway Speedway #113-2010 CD, Pennsylvania, Sept. 9, 2010)

In another case the Court became a “friend” of the litigant so the Judge could personally review the Facebook postings, looking for relevant evidence in another personal injury case. (Offenback v. Bowman 10- CV 1789 Pennsylvania October 2011).

So, what happened to privacy? It appears that litigation trumps any expectation of privacy in our new world of social media.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang