On November 7, 2011, Kashmir Hill on Forbes.com reported that a Connecticut court ordered Stephen and Courtney Gallion, spouses in a divorce proceeding, to reveal and exchange their online account passwords, including their passwords to Facebook, eHarmony, and Match.com. According to the article, the judge also ordered Mrs. Gallion not to delete any material from her online accounts.
As the article points out, the judge issued these orders to facilitate the discovery process in the divorce proceeding, including evidence relevant to the custody of their children. However, there’s a big difference between turning over your online account passwords versus simply turning over the contents of your online account (e.g., your Facebook postings, your e–mail messages, etc.) in the discovery process.
Facebook, for example, has a procedure that allows a user to download everything that user has put into Facebook, which a user could do and then turn over that resulting data to the other party in the discovery process. To do this, a Facebook user would go into his or her “Account Settings” and click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”
Turning over your online account password to the other party in a lawsuit gives them complete access to and control over all aspects of the account, with the potential for abuse by the other party. Also, turning over your Facebook password or letting anyone else access your Facebook account violates section 4.8 of the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (last revised April 26, 2011), and, under section 14, Facebook can stop providing all or part of Facebook services if you violate these rules. However, section VI of the Facebook Data Use Policy (last revised September 23, 2011) also states that Facebook “may share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so.” I am interested to find out how Facebook responds to this situation.