Will The Stored Communications Act Shield Wall Postings and Comments on Social Networking Sites from Civil Subpoenas?

November 12, 2010, 2:47 PM

Based on a recent case from the Central District of California, Crispin v. Christian Audigier, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (Crispin), the answer appears to be yes. In Crispin, the plaintiff was served with subpoenas that sought all communications referring or relating to any defendant. The magistrate judge upheld subpoenas served on social networking sites Media Temple, Facebook, and MySpace for webmail, private messaging, wall postings and comments.

The district court reversed, finding that social networking sites were electronic communication service (ECS) providers under the Stored Communications Act provisions, 18 U.S.C.S. Sections 2702(a)(1) and 2510 (15). Furthermore, the sites operated as remote computing service providers (RCS) under 18 U.S.C.S. Sections 2702(a)(2) and 2711(2) in relation to wall postings and comments. In general, the Stored Communications Act prohibits electronic communications stored at ECS and RCS from unauthorized access. The district court quashed the portion of the subpoenas that sought private messages from the social networking sites, and vacated the magistrates order as to the wall posting and comments and remanded for consideration of plaintiffs privacy settings. The clear implication of the district courts opinion was that if the plaintiffs wall settings were private, the subpoenas would be quashed as to the wall postings and comments as well.

The Crispin decision is lengthy, detailed, and well-reasoned. It should become persuasive authority for other jurisdictions. --Daniel F. Basnight