No Expectation Of Privacy In Dating Website Profiles
There was recently an interesting development in the much-anticipated James Holmes case. Holmes is currently facing 152 criminal charges following the July, 2012 shooting spree at a Colorado cinema, that left 12 people dead and 70 injured, and his trial is due to begin in February, 2014. He had filed a motion to suppress records obtained from his pages on the sites AdultFriendFinder.com and match.com. On both profiles, Holmes had supposedly posed the question “Will you visit me in prison?” to prospective dates. The prosecution, which is seeking the death penalty against Holmes, planned to introduce these profiles as evidence, under the theory that they indicate the defendant’s mental state prior to the shooting.
The defense’s basis for the motion to suppress was simple: they argued that Holmes had “a reasonable expectation of privacy in his profiles and the subscriber information he provided or exposed to the administrators of Match.com and AdultFriendFinder.com. Therefore, asserts the defendant, these records are protected by… the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution…”
The Court quite easily finds that there is no expectation of privacy in the user profiles on each site, based on the way they were freely available for other subscribers to view:
It is significant that his main purpose was not to have a private conversation through a private instrument from the privacy of his home or office… It was to have his identification and very personal information disseminated to other participants in the websites in order to secure a date or to start a relationship or a friendship.
Indeed, the media furore was so intense that the gossip sites had reported about the dating sites before the “governmental intrusion took place,” so it’s held that there could be no expectation of privacy in that profile information – and particularly the key question “Will you visit me in prison?”
The defendant posted his profiles… with the intent to make them accessible to other members of the websites. Furthermore, the AdultFriendFinder.com profile was apparently accessed directly by TMZ and The Inquisitr, while the Match.com profile was forwarded to TMZ by another Match.com member.
Additionally, the information about Holmes’ subscription to these sites was also deemed to be lacking any reasonable expectation of privacy, based on existing federal case law.