Think your Facebook photos are truly private? That might not stand up in court

New York state’s highest court has ruled Facebook photos set to private must be disclosed if they bear relevance to legal proceedings.

The New York Court of Appeals has ruled a woman must surrender images that are hidden from public view through Facebook’s privacy settings, Reuters reports.

In a landmark decision that could have wider ramifications beyond one current case, the judges voted 7-0 to overturn a previous ruling protecting the private photos from use in a trial.

The ruling pertains to the case of a woman who suffered a spine injury and brain damage following a horse riding accident in 2011.

Related: MWC 2018

Kelly Forman sued her former friend Mark Henkin, whom she alleges caused the accident by fitting the horse with a defective stirrup, which broke.

In his defence, Henkin’s lawyers had sought access to Facebook photos taken before and after the accident. In December 2015, the request was rejected after it was deemed a “fishing expedition” for evidence.

‘Subject to discovery’

However, this month New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, reversed the 2015 decision claiming the disputed Facebook account could “reasonably” hold evidence crucial to the case.

In the ruling she wrote: “Some materials on a Facebook account may fairly be characterised as private, but even private materials may be subject to discovery if they are relevant.”

The request for photos was thereby “was reasonably calculated to yield evidence relevant to plaintiff’s assertion that she could no longer engage in the activities she enjoyed before the accident and that she had become reclusive,” she added.

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