Facebook Privacy Settings Aren't Enough to Hide Your Photos From Court

By Kate Conger on at

It doesn’t matter if you have your Facebook profile set to private—you can still be required to hand over your photos and messages during a lawsuit, a New York appeals court ruled today.

The seven-judge panel unanimously ruled that a woman who was injured in a horse riding accident and subsequently became a recluse has to turn over photos from her private Facebook account to the horse’s owner, Reuters reports.

The dispute over the photos dates back to 2011, when Kelly Forman suffered spinal and brain injuries in a fall. Her lawsuit alleges that Mark Henkin, the horse’s owner, caused the fall by not setting up her stirrup correctly. Henkin wants access to photos on Forman’s private Facebook account that might show her before and after the injury.

A trial court sided with Henkin in 2014, instructing Forman to provide photos that didn’t include nudity as well as messages she’d sent after the accident. That decision was reversed by a state appeals court in 2015, according to Reuters, before the case shifted back into Henkin’s favor with today’s ruling.

“Some materials on a Facebook account may fairly be characterised as private,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the Court of Appeals wrote in her decision, “but even private materials may be subject to discovery if they are relevant.” The photos could help prove whether Forman became reclusive after the fall, DiFiore added.

The case is a good reminder Facebook privacy settings aren’t a cure-all—although you might be able to keep certain acquaintances from viewing your account, those settings won’t necessarily apply if you get sucked into a legal battle. [Reuters]