The Ingerman & Horwitz LLP US law firm has issued a warning to the law firm’s thousands of clients that insurance companies are increasingly using Facebook and other social media outlets to spy on injured workers. The objective: find evidence on social media sites that insurance companies can use to deny benefits to those who have been hurt on the job or have been harmed through car accidents or other personal injury incidents.
Workcover spies on injured workers!
“We are seeing an increasing number of cases where insurance companies and their lawyers are searching social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, You Tube and others for photos and blogs about what our clients are doing while they are recovering from their injuries,” says Alan Horwitz, partner and co-founder of the Baltimore-based firm. Horwitz says that the courts are ordering injured plaintiffs to produce their Facebook or other social media site pages for inspection by workcover insurance company lawyers.
“The financial consequences of such an inspection can be devastating to the injured client,” says Bruce Ingerman, past president and co-founder of the Maryland State Workers’ Compensation Educational Association. “In one current case, our client’s Workers’ Compensation benefits were stopped by the insurance company when their lawyers discovered he was selling personal items daily on Craigslist and eBay. The insurance company considered that he was earning income and therefore was no longer eligible for workers compensation.”
Ingerman says the case is presently ongoing so he cannot comment on it any further, but says, “it is a prime example regarding the use of the Internet and the wide-spread availability of personal information that an insurance company can use against anyone they choose to go after.”
Partner Horwitz agrees. “Initially people were careful about what photos they posted online and who had access to them but now everyone seems more willing to post just about anything. Your friends may have photos of you that can be searched by your name and tagged on their pages. Your own privacy settings cannot protect you entirely,” he warns.
Steps to protect yourself from workcover’s spying eyes
Both Ingerman and Horwitz are strongly advising their firm’s past and present clients to take the following steps to protect themselves from the prying eyes of the opposing insurance companies:
- Make sure there is nothing you would not want your mother or the insurance company lawyer to see.
- Search your name to see that what comes up is acceptable. Make whatever adjustments are necessary.
- Check your privacy settings.
- Don’t answer emails or requests from people you don’t know. (Keep in mind that because of the lawsuit process, the opposing legal team knows a lot about you and could send you an email that might make you think you know each other.)
- Don’t accept a Facebook friend that you don’t know. Set up your Facebook to require an email before you will accept a new friend.
- Don’t sell stuff on eBay!
In another personal privacy case, this month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in United States v. Jones, a case which could (in the words of Jeffrey Rosen of the NY Times) “redefine the scope of privacy in an age of increasingly ubiquitous surveillance technologies.”
The government’s use of ever-newer (and ever more invasive) technologies to track the whereabouts of its citizens has left a growing number of people with the belief that it is becoming too much like “Big Brother” – a concept made famous by George Orwell’s novel, 1984. In fact, the NY Times notes that the novel is being referenced more often as judges are asked to decide whether such tracking violates the Fourth Amendment.
“1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco. Other judges citing or referring to Orwell include Diane Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Chicago and Nicholas Garaufis of the federal court in Brooklyn. (Both the 7th and 9th Circuits have allowed police to use GPS devices without a warrant.)
The unconstitutional breach of privacy inherent in the use modern technology – this time a GPS unit secretly attached to a government worker’s private car – is also at the root of a case currently being heard by a New York State appeals court. In that instance, a New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer argued that it was an unjustifiable invasion of privacy when investigators placed the device on the worker’s BMW since the monitoring continued during evenings, weekends, and during a multi-day family vacation. The worker, who had almost three decades of state service, was ultimately fired from his $115,000 job for misconduct after a hearing officer concluded he falsified time sheets based, in part, on the data obtained from the GPS tracker.
Whether an unconstitutional breach of privacy using GPS, or by simply posting your newly-arrived grandson’s photo on Facebook, you are making privacy decisions for you, your family members and friends that will last for untold generations. Once posted on the Internet, that information will always be out there somewhere. In fact, one cyber security expert recently said that without realizing it, people are publishing their perpetual personal biography and photos for Big Brother or any of his sinister siblings to see at any time they choose. In fact, the devil could indeed be lurking in the details one chooses to post online.