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Personal data online is ‘fair game’

Personal Data

New sources of data from social media, smartphone apps and health trackers continue to expand the array of evidence available for family law cases, says Vaughan family lawyer Paul Mazzeo.

“From a family law context, anything people post on social media and any other public forum is fair game to use as evidence,” says Mazzeo, principal of Mazzeo Law.

A user’s collection of photos, videos, and status updates on social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat can paint a vivid picture of a person’s daily life, allowing you to track their movement, Mazzeo tells Additional data posted via activity trackers or health apps such as FitBit or MyFitnessPal only expand the information available in a family law case, he says.

“If people are posting things in any kind of public domain, I would have no issue with using it as evidence,” Mazzeo says. “You’re putting it out there in the world so you’ve got to be prepared for all the repercussions.”

The information can be useful as evidence for counsel to make arguments in issues such as spousal or child support, he says. For example, it someone tells the court they can’t afford to support their children, but posts photos of extravagant holidays, it can be used to refute their claims, he says.

Mazzeo says he was once involved in a case in which a woman claimed she was in dire need of spousal support and she was “next to poverty.”

“But her Facebook revealed she was taking four or five vacations a year and was buying Jimmy Choo shoes,” he says.

“It’s almost as if people can’t help posting these things. Even when it was revealed in court that we were using this evidence, she continued to post online.”

Mazzeo says those going through a divorce should use extra vigilance when sharing any personal information or photos online.

He says, firstly, parties should be honest with what they’re asking lawyers and the court to consider.

Secondly: “Be very cognizant with what you’re putting out there,” he says. “Because anyone can reasonably expect it could come up in court. You have to be prepared for the other side of the coin.”