Can Legal Papers Be Served via Facebook?

By David Cohen Comment

Hiding behind your Facebook identity won’t help you dodge being served with legal papers in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. And according to a Bloomberg report, the United States may not be far behind those four countries.

A lawyer representing MKM Capital in Canberra, Australia, started the trend two years ago, Bloomberg reported, using Facebook to serve a foreclosure notice, and Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said at the time that the social network was pleased to see the Australian court validate Facebook as a reliable, secure, and private communication medium.

Since then, similar strategies have been successfully used in New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and Joseph DeMarco, co-chair of the American Bar Association’s criminal justice cyber-crime committee and a lawyer at New York-based DeVore & DeMarco, told Bloomberg the practice may cross the pond to the United States.

“There are people who exist only online,” DeMarco told Bloomberg, adding that the use of social media networks to serve documents would be useful.

DeMarco went on to say that once enough proof was gathered to convince a court that the holder of the social network account is the right person, and that the page is checked often enough to qualify it as a fair path of notification, “nothing on its face in New York state or federal law precludes it,” adding that the process would have to occur without violating ethics codes that would prevent lawyers from “friending” the target in order to deliver the documents.

A counterpoint was provided to Bloomberg by Electronic Privacy Information Center president Mark Rotenberg, who said, “There are going to be privacy concerns, but in some respects, they’re almost inescapable. [Someone] is going to be subject to legal service, even though they may not be happy about it. But if they are properly notified, the law’s primary concern is addressed.”