Following Trends in Florida Law

Archive for August, 2009

Better Searching on Facebook

Friday, August 21st, 2009

We’ve written about how to use social networking websites for jury selection and marketing (see right column under Articles) and Facebook has now made it even easier to hunt down its members and their posts.

Conceptually, Facebook has been a “closed circuit” social networking site where users limit who can view their profiles and posts.  The idea is you keep it to a close circle of friends.  On the other hand, Twitter has been an “open circuit” social networking site where your posts go out into the twittersphere for friends, people you don’t know, neighbors, and prying lawyers to read.  Thus, Facebook has become a rock-solid means to communicate among friends while Twitter has become a way to communicate with the world.  Stated differently, and at the risk of overthinking this issue, Facebook makes connections based upon people, Twitter makes connections based upon topics.

Back to the changes at Facebook.  They’ve changed the general search query (top right corner of your facebook page) so that you can run your search term for everything on their site as well as subcategories like people, pages, groups, etc.  The change was announced (and perhaps better described), here on Facebook blog’s August 10 post.  We also came across this Florida-related post on the topic at Examiner.com, which is likewise a good description of the changes.

This does not mean that you now have access to Facebook user’s profiles, walls or other information.  By default, a user’s profile and other information is restricted.  However, this is an easier way to find users in the first place as well as see other Facebook “events” involving your search term.  Arguably, this could be a babystep towards Facebook becoming more open and searchable.  Meanwhile, don’t think lawyers are alone in searching Facebook…

Thanks to our friends at TechCrunch for the scoop, here.

California Supreme Court OK’s Employer Videotaping Employee’s Office - and no one cares?

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The California Supreme Court issued an August 3 opinion holding that an employer could secretly videotape an employee’s closed office without invading workplace privacy rights — and only a few news agencies mentioned the case by name (about 50 outlets referenced the case generally).  To give you an idea of the short attention, here’s the one page coverage in the L.A. Times.  You would think a state supreme court OK’ing secret videotaping of employees would be an catchy news story..?

The case is Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc. where an employer secretly placed a wireless videocamera in an employee’s office (which had a door lock and window blinds, which could be closed).  The court held that, while the element of “intrusion” was met, the affirmative defenses to “offensiveness” carried the day.

The defendant is a former orphanage which is now an overnight facility for abused children.  The facility had a computer policy against accessing x-rated sexually explicity websites.  The employer learned that two computers — one in a public area and one in a closed office — were being accessed at night for internet porn viewing.  The employee who used the office often failed to log off at night.  She was never suspected.

The employer, motivated both to stop the porn-viewing AND to catch the person, initially tried to put a camera on the public computer but could not sufficiently hide the computer.  He then placed it in the closed office and swore under oath that the camera was there for three weeks, he never viewed it during normal business hours, he never saw anything invasive, he kept the video camera screen out of reach of other employees, and… he saw nothing.

Also interesting, the court found that there was no requirement that the defendant try alternative, less intrusive methods (although the court excluded that other methods would have worked).

The employee apparently found the camera one day with the red light blinking, the cord plugged in, and the equipment warm to the touch.  She was concerned because she often closed her office door to change or have private conversations.  The court acknowledged, “we appreciate the plaintiffs’ dismay over the discovery of video equipment… nothing we say here is meant to encourage such surveillance measures…”

The case is fact-rich and may, indeed, be so fact-specific that it could be distinguished from other workplace situations.  This opinion should, by no means, be viewed as the “green light” for employers to videotape employees.  That said, especially for California, which we view generally as a plaintiff-favoring jurisdiction, it is remarkable that the court unabashedly relied on the self-serving testimony of the employer — to the point that summary judgment was granted.

Why Lawyers Should Be @ Twitter

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Chances are if you are reading this, you likely do not need a primer on how to use web applications like Twitter.  But, in case you need a refresher or are looking for some Palm Beach legal related tweet material, check out the July/August 2009 Palm Beach Bar Bulletin for Why Lawyers Should Be @ Twitter.

Special thanks to Diana L. Martin of Leopold~Kuvin who did the majority of the Internet spadework and writing.

Not a member of the Palm Beach Bar Association?  Check them out here or become a fan on Facebook.

Twitter fans can follow Diana, me or the PBCBA.

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