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Facebook and other social media companies can be compelled to give criminal defendants preparing for trial user content that is already public, California's highest court ruled Thursday.
The state Supreme Court's ruling gives an opening to defense lawyers whose requests for information have been ignored by social media companies that argue a federal privacy law prevents its release.
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Specifically, the high court rejected an appellate court's ruling that providers were barred from disclosing communications that were set by the user to be public, and that remained public at the time defendants issued subpoenas to the companies.
The case has pitted some of Silicon Valley's biggest companies against public defenders, who say they need equal access to mount a proper defense. Attorneys for the companies have argued that defendants have other ways to get the material.
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"The Supreme Court, by rejecting the idea that social media providers can simply ignore a defense subpoena is a huge step forward," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
But the narrow ruling sidestepped the greater issue of leveling a playing field for criminal defendants whose attorneys do not have the powers of police and prosecutors to demand individual private records from social media companies, said Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties nonprofit.
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"The evidentiary field is still tilted, and the scales are still compressed and weighted in favor of the prosecution," Lacambra said.
Brielle Villablanca, a spokeswoman for Twitter, had no comment. Facebook and Instagram did not respond to a request for comment, nor did attorneys for the three companies.
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The Supreme Court said it will instruct the appellate court to send the case back to the...
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