How long do people have until our most private data is used to formally convict us of “crimes” in court?

Several court cases have inched closer and closer to this all-encompassing surveillance/police state in the past, but now we seem to be on the precipice of a nightmare.

How long do we have before our private Facebook messages are used against us in court, collected at the highest levels of state surveillance by the NSA and other intelligence agencies? How long do we have before our secretly recorded audio, phone in pocket, is used to convict us in court?

What if a person says something about, for instance, illegal psychedelic mushrooms in 2017, and in 2027, that person is convicted of a “crime” for selling the mushrooms 10 years later, when the laws are changed to allow convictions based on sensitive data collected through surveillance?

It’s difficult to know where to start on this issue: every country has a different policy when it comes to data collection and court convictions, so to measure the worst conditions for data collection in the world, it would make sense to look at China first.

China is of course home to some of the most Orwellian, totalitarian internet censorship and surveillance on the planet. There, social media users can be imprisoned for speaking out against the state, or doing anything the state deems unlawful.

There, it is unclear whether or not private social media messages can be used in court to convict a person, but understanding how the Internet works there, it seems very likely this is already happening.

Recently, China launched its own court to deal with internet related cases.

(Image credit: China)

One website that is following this issue is titled Social Media Law Bulletin.”

In South Africa, the boundary is being pushed with hacked private Facebook messages, obtained illegally, qualifying as evidence in a court case.

According to Social Media Law Bulletin:

“A South African high court recently ruled that a civil litigant’s private Facebook messages, which were unlawfully obtained by the hacking of his personal account, were nevertheless admissible as evidence against him.

In Harvey v Niland, the litigants were members of the same corporation.  Niland was also an employee of the corporation.  After leaving his employment on bad terms, he remained a member of the corporation.  Harvey sought a court order to prevent Niland from soliciting the corporation’s existing customers for his new employer and damaging the corporation’s reputation, in breach of his fiduciary duties as a member of the corporation.  The employer’s complaint succeeded on the basis of private Facebook communications between Niland and the customers, which Harvey had accessed by obtaining Niland’s username and password from another employee.”

Over 2 years ago in the US, a court ruled that private Facebook posts can be used as evidence in court, in a custody battle. According to an article from IB Times titled “US court rules private Facebook profile can be used as evidence in custody battle”:

“Even if you keep your Facebook profile private, be warned that the information can still be used against you if you are involved in a legal dispute or get into trouble with the law.

A judge in Westchester County in the State of New York has decreed that a man involved in a custody battle with his ex-wife will be allowed to access her private Facebook account and submit evidence from it to the court.”

These are a few examples of many. This is a scattered, complicated issue with no definitive moment where it will become normal for a court to convict people based on private data.

However, the most black and white line that can be drawn is probably the moment when a court convicts a person of a crime, based on data that was collected through state surveillance itself, through the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

The day that NSA/intelligence agency-collected surveillance data is used to convict people in court, is the day that a lot of things will change. That appears to be the boundary that, when crossed, will set a very dangerous precedent.

At this moment, they can use the data in secretive ways and come to conclusions that could be used to find legal evidence to convict a person: but they can not openly use the sensitive data they collect as evidence in court, from what we know.

We already know that the NSA and related intelligence agencies collect every single possible piece of data on every person they can. It seems to be only a matter of time before their data is used against us in court.

In conclusion, the answer to the question of this article doesn’t seem to be readily available. When will our most sensitive data, that we know is being harvested, actually be used in court to convict us of things a government deems criminal?

Hopefully no time soon, but knowing how our data is being collected, it’s becoming increasingly likely that that time is soon.

(Image credit: MEB, Facebook)