Private Online Groups May Not Be Private

Child’s Playhouse, Bayreuth, Germany by Dave Shafer from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I was contacted by person who claimed to be a member of a private Facebook group. She asked if she had any options for recourse when another group member used statements from her post in another article online. This group member also used a pixelated version of the person’s Facebook profile picture. According to the person, she wasn’t recognizable in the altered image, but she feared people could figure it out if they compared to her profile picture to the pixelated one.

No Expectation of Privacy in Online Posts
To anyone in this type of situation, I’m sorry to dash your hopes for vindication, but in most situations, there is no expectation of privacy in what you post on the internet – especially on social media, regardless of the privacy settings. It’s too easy for someone to create a screenshot, save, and/or share a post. Moreover, you never know who is looking over a user’s shoulder or with whom they’ll share their screen when they’re viewing your post that is meant for their eyes only.

This is true even when an online group is labeled as “private” or “closed.”  In many private or closed Facebook group, other members can invite outsiders to join or a new person can join if their request to be added is approved by one member of the group. Even though a private group is meant for a limited audience, post with care. You never know where a post will end up. This is why one of my rules of thumb for the internet is “Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.”

If You Want Real Privacy
If you want to have a private conversation, keep it offline with your closest confidants or someone with who you have a confidential relationship (e.g. doctor, lawyer, therapist, priest). In a professional setting, have a written non-disclosure agreement(NDA) where everyone is contractually obligated to maintained your confidences.

Even I use NDAs. I have certain people, where when we sit down for a drink, we start the conversation by saying, “Standing NDA” and we know nothing said between us will be shared with outsiders.

The Internet is Not a Place for Privacy
If there are times when you want to speak online while maintaining a level of privacy, you can reduce the risk of being connected to a statement by using an online alter ego. If you go this route, be prepared to be unmasked and live with the consequences at any time. You may use an IP address or post something that will give away your true identity.

If you want a resource regarding the legal dos and don’ts about the internet, including additional information about online privacy, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you need legal help regarding internet privacy, you can contact me directly or a social media lawyer in your community. I post about these issues on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

What’s Up with the Cactus-Cams in Paradise Valley?

Four Peaks Seen Through Cactus Goal Posts by Alan Levine from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Four Peaks Seen Through Cactus Goal Posts by Alan Levine from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you’re at an intersection in Paradise Valley and you see a saguaro cactus that looks fake, it probably is.

Paradise Valley recently installed three fake cacti that contain cameras that will be snapping photos of every license plate that goes by. Ken Burke, Paradise Valley’s City Manager said the images will be compared against the “hot list” which includes cars that are reported stolen or part in Amber Alerts. The city said the images that are not connect to any investigations will be destroyed after 180 days.

I’m a bit skeptical of this reasoning for the cameras. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, vehicle thefts have been steadily declining in recent years. And according to the official Amber Alert website, there was only 1 Amber Alert in Arizona in 2011, the most recent year for which a report was released. I wonder if they installed them to search for cars that are related to crimes or people with warrants.

And what about privacy? The law has firmly established that you have no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public, including where you go in your car. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police need a warrant to put a GPS on your vehicle. Snapping your photo every time you drive through a particular intersection isn’t as extreme as tracking your every move, but it could be used to track patterns of behavior.

On its face, this looks like a waste of time and money, but I would be curious to hear an update about these cameras in six months. I would want to know how many crimes they’ve helped solve and if they’re being used for additional tasks.

Privacy issues aren’t going away any time soon. If you want to chat more about this topic, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Drones, Privacy, & Arizona Law

Drone vs Cow by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Drone vs Cow by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As drones become more popular, there seems to be more concerns about how they will impact privacy. Recently there was a news story where a woman was upset when she discovered that someone used a drone to shoot footage of her neighborhood.

I understand her concerns. No one likes to be spied on. However, if someone shoots an innocuous video of their neighborhood using a drone and posts it on YouTube, how is this different than the Street View on Google Maps? If you happen to be outside and in the area when the Google camera car drives by, your picture is going on the internet.

Arizona does not currently have any specific laws about drones, but there are FAA guidelines. It’s generally permissible to use them for mapping, artistic purposes, or if flying drones is your hobby. There are laws in Arizona, however, aimed at protecting people’s privacy.

In general, a person has no expectation of privacy when they are in public. So if you’re caught on camera by a drone while you’re out and about, there may be little you can do about it. You do have a greater expectation of privacy in your backyard and within your home – if you can’t be easily seen through the windows or from your neighbor’s second floor. Even if you can be seen, you still have some rights and options for recourse depending on the situation.

Criminal Voyeurism: It’s a felony in Arizona to invade someone’s privacy without their knowledge for sexual situation or to share photos or videos taken while invading their privacy.  This applies to up-skirt cameras, bathroom cameras, and likely using a drone to spy on someone for your own sexual gratification. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1424)

Revenge Porn: Arizona passed a law against “revenge porn” this summer. It’s now a felony to share or offer to share a photo or video of a person when they’re in a state of nudity or sexual act if the person offering the photo or video knew or should have known that the person in the photo or video had not consented to the person sharing them. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-1425)

Lawsuit for Personal Injury: If a person learns that photos or videos of them were taken by a drone and possibly shared, the person may have grounds for some type of tort lawsuit such as commercializing a person’s image without authorization, infliction of emotional distress, or public disclosure of private information. These cases would, of course, depend on the facts of the situation and need to be evaluated by a personal injury attorney.  Additionally, if a drone operator injures a person or their property with their drone, the operator could be held criminally and civilly liable for the damages.

This is an emerging and developing area of law. Lawmakers are still determining what the rules regarding drones should be. Ultimately the laws regarding drones could vary from state to state so it’s important to be educated on the laws that apply to you if you have a drone.

If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

No Expectation of Privacy in Public

Smile, creeps! by S.mirk from Flickr (photo from the  World Naked Bike Ride)

Smile, creeps! by S.mirk from Flickr (photo from the World Naked Bike Ride)

You have no expectation of privacy in anything you do or say in public.

It used to be that if you did or said something in public that you later regretted, you only had to worry about the people who saw you repeating it to others. Now that everyone carries a smartphone, you should act as if someone is taking photos and shooting video of you all the time and that the footage is going to end up all over the internet or on the front page of the newspaper.

That means if you say something racist, belittle at server for making a simple mistake, go to a strip club, or get drunk and make an ass out of yourself, you better be prepared for someone to capture that moment with their phone and share it with everyone on the internet. Once it goes out there, you have no control over who will see it.

Carter Law Firm's Postcards

Carter Law Firm’s Postcards

When I give talks about social media law I tell people to assume that everything they post online will be seen by their best friend, their worst enemy, their boss, and their mother. If they don’t want one of those people to see something, then they shouldn’t post it. Likewise you should assume that these people will see the footage of anything you do in public.

This rule also applies to situations where you’re in public and you don’t know that someone can see you. If you and your significant other decide to have sex in public – like at a park late at night or on the rooftop terrace of your apartment building – you’re chosing to have sex in plain view of the public. The fact that you didn’t think anyone was watching you does not give you an expectation of privacy.

Some people may order you to stop filming them, including the police. If it’s a situation that is in plain view of the public, they don’t have the right to stop you. There may be issues if you’re stalking or harassing someone, but filming a person one time is unlikely to qualify. There is a law that says it’s illegal to refuse to follow a police officer’s order so in that situation you can decide to comply and go after them later for infringing on your rights or post the footage that you have with the story of them ordering you to stop filming. You could also risk getting arrested by refusing to comply and argue to the court that the officer didn’t have valid grounds for giving you that order.

What about the wiretapping law? Arizona is a one party consent state where only one party to the conversation needs to consent to it being recorded. This prevents third parties from intercepting your phone calls or planting a bug near you to record your conversations. This law will protect you against someone spying on you, but if you’re speaking loudly enough for third parties to hear you, you have no expectation of privacy in your conversation.

One right you do maintain is the right to commercialize your image. If someone takes a photo or video of you in public and is making money off of it, you might have a claim that they are commercializing your image without your consent.

Because we live in a world where people are quick to record everything with their smartphones, think before you act. It’s best to be willing to own everything you do or say in public. That way if anyone ever confronts you with your past behavior in an attempt to humiliate you or tarnish your reputation, you can take the wind out of their sails by owning it. But you better be willing to own anything you do in every situation.

For more information about privacy and the internet, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed or my video on this topic.

You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Woman Attacks Camera Man on Camelback

Cholla Trail Landmark - Camelback Mountain by Dru Bloomfield - At Home in Scottsdale

Cholla Trail Landmark – Camelback Mountain by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale

Last week Pete Kosednar was hiking on Camelback Mountain when he saw a woman on the trail who didn’t have her dog on a leash. He turned on his video camera and asked her is she knew that her dog was supposed to be leashed. She didn’t appreciate being filmed and reacted by swearing at him and hitting him. Check out the video for yourself.

Was Pete Kosednar wrong to film this woman? No! She was in a public place where she had no expectation of privacy. As long as he wasn’t filming her to commercialize her image or filming her in a way that constituted any type of harassment, there’s nothing she could do to stop him from filming her. And now the video is on YouTube where everyone can see her behaving badly.

I understand that privacy is a hot-button topic for a lot of people. It is for me. However, you have no expectation of privacy for anything you do in view of the public so there’s nothing you can do to stop someone from filming you in most situations. Pete could probably strap a video camera to his head and tape most of his day-to-day activities without risk of penalty.

There are some places where you can expect to not be filmed like public bathrooms, tanning beds,  locker rooms, and retail businesses that don’t allow you to take pictures or shoot video in the store. This woman was on Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain. There are no special restrictions on shooting photos on video there.

It also amuses me when people make a scene about being filmed in public. We have surveillance cameras everywhere – in the stores and shopping centers, on courthouses, monitoring freeway traffic, etc. It’s funny when people accept those cameras as a part of every day life but freak out when someone turns on the camera in their phone when they’re standing on the sidewalk or in a public park.

The take-away lesson here is if you’re going to behave badly in public, whether you’re breaking the law, violating a social norm, or making an ass of yourself, don’t be surprised when you find out that someone videotaped it and posted it online.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.
Check out my ebook on Amazon – The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed

Hat tips to Phoenix New Times for running the story and Jeff Moriarty for telling me about it.

When Can Someone Post Photos Of You Online?

My Camera by Paul Reynolds

I’ve had a few people ask me about the legalities of posting pictures of other people online. I thought I’d tackle the most common issue with photographs – whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. I’m not going to get into commercializing a person’s image or misrepresenting a person. I’m only addressing whether someone can post a picture that they took of you on their Facebook page, blog, Flickr, etc.

No Pants Light Rail Ride 2012 by Devon Christopher Adams

Pictures of You in Public
You have no expectation of privacy in anything you do in public. This includes where you go and what you do while you’re there. For example, I just got an adorable basset hound named Rosie. We take walks every day. I have no expectation of privacy regarding where we walk, what I’m wearing when I walk her, or how I react when she pulls on the leash. That’s all in plain view for everyone to see. Anyone can take a picture of us and post it online, preferably with a caption that says, “Sassy lady and her awesome dog,” and there’s nothing I can do about it (as long as they’re not misrepresenting me or commercializing my image without my consent).

If you’re in a public place and someone snaps a picture of you while you’re falling down drunk, getting arrested, picking your nose, scowling at a crying baby, or not wearing pants, there’s probably nothing you can do if that picture shows up online somewhere.

The exception to this rule is you have an expectation of privacy in places like public bathroom stalls, changing rooms, tanning salons, and doctor’s offices that may require you to be partially or completely undressed.

Pictures of You in Private Venues
When pictures are taken of you at a private event or in someone’s private home, you have to ask whether you had an expectation of privacy in each particular situation. If you attend a party where there are no rules regarding photos and everyone has their cameras out, you have no expectation of privacy if someone takes a photo of you and puts it in their online album.

Some events come with ground rules regarding photos that could create an expectation of privacy. I had a friend in college who had a Decorate Your Nipples theme party where everyone had to decorate their chest. Some people put decorations on their shirts and some people opted to decorate their skin. The rule for that party was that no cameras were allowed except during the designated picture time. At picture time, all the photos were limited to one room. If you didn’t want any photographic documentation of your being at that party, you had to go to the no-camera room.

There may be activities where there are no specified rules about photographs, but where the nature of the event or activity gives you an expectation of privacy. For example, if you and your partner make a sex tape or take intimate pictures of each other, there’s an inherent expectation that no one beside you two would see them. If you break up, your partner can’t post the pictures online and protect themselves by saying that you never agreed to keep them private.

When it comes to the question, “Can I post pictures of other people online?,” the answer is always, “It depends.” My general rule of thumb is “Don’t do anything in public that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the paper.” When it comes to photographs, the same rule generally applies because you might end up in a situation where you had an expectation of privacy but someone posted a picture of you online that they shouldn’t have. You might have a case against the jerk who posed it, but you still have to deal with the possibility that a lot of people saw a photo of you that they should have never seen.

If you want more information about the legal rules regarding social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about internet law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.