Answer: Yes, they can look at the public posts you put on Facebook, but whether they can access the non-public materials is a more complex question.
Let us explain.
Can Probation Officers Look At Your Facebook? (Explained)
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Authority of the Probation Officer
There are two places that a probation officer gets his authority over a defendant/probationer.
First, there is the probation order, which will come with many orders/rules for the defendant, such as:
- obey all laws
- consent to a search of the defendant’s person, vehicle, or residence at the probation officer’s request
- maintain employment or go to school
- use no intoxicating substances
- submit to substance abuse testing
- stay away from specific places or people
- no travel
Probation officers also get their authority from the statutes of the jurisdiction, state or federal.
While the defendant has given up some of his constitutional rights (or loses them) in the conviction, not all are lost.
He still has the right against unreasonable search and seizure, to have an attorney represent him, and to have the government prove its allegations with sufficient evidence.
There is public Facebook, and private Facebook.
There are items (posts, photos, comments) that individuals can make public or private.
There are some items on Facebook we cannot control, because they belong to someone else’s profile, page, or group.
If a defendant makes his Facebook profile, page, group, or other Facebook property public, this means anyone on Facebook can access it.
There is no special magic for the probation officer to see what the defendant has himself posted, as it is out there for all the world to see.
The same is true if the defendant posts comments, pictures, memes, or other items on public profiles, posts, pages, etc.
But then there is private Facebook–all the content that the defendant has marked “friends only” or “private/only me.”
The probation officer will have to do more in order to access this content, and the probation officer’s actions will need to stay within the bounds of the probation order, the statutes governing his supervision, and the constitutional boundaries.
Accessing Friends Only Content On Facebook
There are many ways a probation officer could access Friends Only content of the defendant.
First, the defendant could give his consent to the probation officer.
This many be something the defendant does voluntarily, or it may be something that the defendant is required to do as part of his probation.
Second, a Facebook friend of the defendant could give consent to the probation officer to review content that the friend has access to.
Third, a Facebook friend should screenshot or copy the Facebook content and re-post it, or even email it to the probation officer.
Fourth, the probation officer could seek a warrant to obtain the information directly from the defendant or even from Facebook.
Accessing Private/Only Me Content On Facebook
The primary ways a probation officer could access private Facebook content is via consent, or a warrant.
As noted above, the terms of the probation might require the defendant to give the probation officer access.
The defendant might also voluntarily decide it is fine for the probation officer to look.
It is probably a violation of the terms of service of Facebook to share passwords with third parties, so just keep that in mind.
Keeping a Probation Officer Out Of Facebook Content
If a defendant is concerned about who is looking at his Facebook content, there are a few things he can do.
First, he can take advantage of all the privacy options available to him via Facebook to control who sees what he posts.
Second, he can control carefully what he does post, just in case something that was supposed to be ‘friends-only’ gets shared beyond his control.
Third, the defendant can simply shut down troublesome social media channels during the term of probation.
If there is a concern about the probation officer’s social media access, the defendant can have his attorney assist him with setting the initial probation terms or modifying existing terms to address that point.
If a defendant thinks that the probation officer’s conduct in reviewing his social media channels goes beyond the bounds of the probation terms or the law, a consultation with an attorney experienced with post-judgment matters and search/seizure law should help.
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