Technology is evolving at a pace that is difficult to keep up with, especially in the area of laws protecting privacy. When the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was established in 1986, it was a much different world than today. Computers and email exchanges were just beginning to be used by businesses and consumers, making the laws sufficient.
Today, the preferred mode of communication by businesses and consumers worldwide is electronic. Emails, texting, social media, and other electronic forms of communication have replaced paper and pencil for the most part, but internet privacy laws protecting these exchanges have not been updated since their inception.
Two recent court decisions regarding Internet and electronic privacy highlight the ineffectiveness of today’s Internet laws. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently voted unanimously an investigation can proceed of a law firm that accessed a plaintiff’s Facebook account to obtain evidence against him. The Court’s decision was based on the fact that no case laws exist on this issue, so the investigation can proceed.
The lawsuit was brought against a New Jersey police department after a man was struck by a police vehicle in a car accident. The victim claimed that he was permanently injured in the collision and was seeking compensation for his injuries. In an effort to disprove the allegations, the defense accessed the plaintiff’s Facebook account, which contained videos of him engaged in various activities that were inconsistent with the disabilities he reported. When the defense team used the evidence in the lawsuit, attorneys for the plaintiff charged the team with ethical violations relating to internet privacy.
In another case, New York Presbyterian Hospital was fined $2.2 million for violations of patient privacy when two patients were filmed during the production of a popular medical television series. The U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights recently announced the fine, citing that hospital officials allowed ABC camera crews to film patients being treated in the Emergency Room, despite protests from the medical staff. The images then appeared on the television series when it was aired nationally on ABC.
The lawsuit was initiated by the widow of a man that was filmed by the ABC television crew as he lay dying from injuries suffered after he was hit by a truck. His face was blurred in the televised segment, but the widow recognized her husband and filed suit claiming that the show did not have her consent to use the image.
In the settlement, the hospital was also cited for failing to protect patient privacy by allowing the ABC film crew to access protected areas. As a result, the hospital will be monitored by health officials to ensure that it is in compliance with patient privacy laws.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barry Eichen
NJ medical malpractice lawyer, Barry R. Eichen, grew up in the middle class neighborhood of South Edison. His father was a manager at an auto parts store and his mother worked part-time while raising five children. After graduating from Edison High School, Mr. Eichen worked at night while attending college to help pay for his education.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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