Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Pitfalls of Modern Communication

There are more and more ways to communicate. Sometimes we intend to communicate and sometimes we are recorded in some fashion without our knowledge. Government and businesses, as well as some private citizens, are increasingly gathering information about people, even when the people are not involved in litigation. When litigation is on-going, there is even more monitoring and recording of various aspects of our lives. With that in mind, the following warnings may be helpful to keep in mind when you are involved in the court system in some way.

1. Be careful what you say. Voice mail seems to be everywhere when people don't answer their phones. Most people don't think twice about leaving a recorded message, but they really should think about it when they are or might be involved in a court case. It's always best to think about how your message, especially one made in anger, would sound when played in court. In addition, your non-recorded statements made to others can fairly easily be testified about in court. Think about how your words might sound when someone else is repeating them from memory. Also, telephone calls can be recorded, sometimes legally, sometimes not. They also may be played in court. Statements can also be easily recorded by tiny voice-activated recorders or by most cell phones now. Bottom line -- think before you speak.

2. Be careful what you do. Just as in the case of voice recordings, your image may be recorded in various ways, some you may know about and others which you don't know about. Small video or regular cameras are easy to carry and pull out to get pictures. The same is true for cell phones with camera capabilities. It doesn't take long to show up on You Tube. Security cameras are becoming more and more common. Going into some stores permits your image to be recorded.

In addition to your image, your activities are being recorded. Various government agencies keep more and more records. Some may be accessible through the Freedom of Information Act and other means. Toll tags make it possible to track your driving habits. Cell phones can sometimes be traced to find your location. Using credit or debit cards creates a trail. Bottom line -- think before you act.

3. Be careful what you write. There are many ways to send written messages which may come back to haunt you. Among the now-common fairly new means of communication are email, text messaging and instant messaging. Various other computer records are also possible to uncover. Old fashioned methods, such as "snail mail", notes, cards or signs, can be produced in court to embarrass or contract someone. Bottom line -- think before you write.

4. Be careful how you record things. There are still some rules and laws that apply to gathering and recording information on people. There are various federal and state rules and laws that apply. Wiretapping is generally forbidden (although not for the government). Bugging by hidden microphones or cameras may violate laws and the products may be inadmissible in court. There can be civil liability for violation of some laws or someone's right of privacy (which seems to be shrinking). There are different state and federal laws regarding recording phone calls and a local attorney should be consulted before you undertake such actions. Bottom line -- think before you record.

The best advice is to assume that whatever you say, write or do will be recorded and then displayed in court or in public. Act appropriately.

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