It used to be difficult to keep track of what people said and did, but not anymore. Thanks to the advent of the internet and rise of social media, billions of people around the globe are able to broadcast their thoughts and actions to anyone else with a connection to the web. The result is trillions of photos, videos, status updates, blog posts, and other forms of digital expression scattered across the internet, most of which is easily traced back to its creator.
Online activity has a way of coming back to haunt those faced with legal trouble. Whether it’s being charged with a crime, filing a lawsuit, or going through a custody battle, opposing lawyers and investigators will likely be sifting through your digital breadcrumbs at some point, trying to find something questionable or suspicious. If they uncover anything damning, they will work hard to introduce it as evidence against you.
Most readers will tell themselves they have nothing to fear, for they’ve never posted anything negative or risque online, and have never even written an angry email. While avoiding regrettable instances of emotional outbursts via social media and other internet platforms is certainly a step in the right direction, it doesn’t completely put somebody in the free and clear regarding the potential for online activity to hurt them in court.
For example, let’s say you’re currently in a fierce child custody battle with your ex-spouse. The other side alleges there is a risk you could become too inebriated to look after a child in your care, an accusation you adamantly deny. The problem is, your ex’s lawyer was able to track down a short YouTube video posted by your best friend in college of what looks like you passed out on the couch with beer cans scattered across the coffee table. So what? It’s dark, blurry, and brief – that could be anybody on the couch.
Using certified transcription services for lawyers, the opposing attorney is able to reliably determine an offscreen voice in the video is identifying you as the person passed out drunk. Now the transcript can be read in court along with the video being played.
You might again be thinking this isn’t much to worry about – it was college and that was over ten years ago. While this is true to an extent, the opposing lawyer will highlight your absolute denial of drinking to the point of excess. Sure, it was a long time ago, but it reveals a certain level of dishonesty about your original answer. It is indeed possible for you to drink to the point of passing out, as demonstrated by the video available online for anyone to watch.
Tracking down an old video posted by an acquaintance of an individual might be a tedious process, but finding damning material about a person online often takes much less time and effort. Simply looking at an individual’s Facebook profile or Twitter history can provide lawyers and investigators with plenty of worthwhile material. While much of what they find may never make it to the courtroom due to judicial rulings and so forth, these bits of information are useful for expanding their net in pursuit of admissible evidence.
Regarding the ability for law enforcement to access emails and search histories, all it takes is a warrant and sometimes not even that. A subpoena for information can be obtained with very little effort depending on the jurisdiction. Of course, if investigators or lawyers have been provided with account names and passwords, there is very little stopping them from going forward with a look. Whether they can then turn around and use that against you in open court depends on if they decide to take official steps to seek it as evidence.
The ultimate takeaway is to be mindful of the power online activity can have in the event you are in legal trouble. Even something posted online by someone else can come back to haunt you.