Disclaimer: The material in this factsheet is a general guide only. It is not legal advice. For legal advice about your own particular situation we encourage you to call the Free Legal Helpline on 1300 366 424. The legal information was correct at the time of publishing (January 2018), but may change without notice.
This factsheet deals with issues to do with what you post online and your privacy - whether police and schools can access your accounts, getting in trouble with the law for what you post on social media, and protecting yourself online.
If you are looking for information on cyberbullying via social media or laws to do with the sharing of sexually explicit images on social media please see our factsheet Porn, Sexual Photos and Films.
Getting in trouble with the law for what you post on social media
‘Self-incrimination’ is when a person says or does something that links them to an illegal activity or crime. If the police learn about what you’ve said or done, it could be used as evidence against you or people you know. Sometimes you might not even realise that what you are talking about is a crime.
What does self-incrimination have to do with social media?
It is becoming more common for people to post information on social networking sites that links them to crimes without realising that this can be used against them. Often, they don’t realise that online information can be used as evidence of offline crimes.
Can police view my private accounts?
Even if you are careful about your privacy settings, police and others may be able to gain access to the information you post. Even if you use an anonymous user name, this may not protect you. For example, Facebook and Twitter have privacy rules that say that the personal information of its users will be given in response to legal complaints where the information is required to meet any law enforcement request.
The police can also apply for a warrant to search your online accounts:
- If the police suspect that you or your friends have committed a crime, they can apply for a warrant to search your social networking accounts for evidence
- Many websites have policies in place to deal with search warrants. For example, Facebook allows police with search warrants to request information about users, even if they set their profiles to private.
- Under South Australian law, police can apply for a warrant to search your device for evidence of a crime.
Can police confiscate my mobile, tablet etc.?
The only times police can take your mobile or device from you without your permission or a warrant are when:
- They have reason to believe that the device is stolen, or
- They have reason to believe your device may contain evidence of a offence.
If the police suspect that you or your friends have committed a crime, they can apply for a warrant to search your social networking accounts for evidence. If a serious crime has been committed, police may be able to apply for warrants to search all of the communications sent to and from a computer or other device.
You don’t have to hand your device over to police simply because they ask for it. It’s up to them to show you they have a reason to believe that the device is stolen or is being used to commit a crime. However, if the police arrest you or charge you with an offence they may have the power to seize your computer or phone.
If you’re questioned or arrested by police in relation to something you’ve posted online, get legal advice as soon as possible. Call the free Legal Help Line 1300 366 424.
Schools, employers and your accounts
Can schools, employers and others view my private accounts?
If you use a school or work computer to access your accounts, you have to follow their ‘acceptable use policy’. This policy will usually give your school or employer the right to monitor your computer use - this means that they can see everything you post and all the web sites you visit when you’re using a computer at school or work. So, you should always read the policy - and if there is something you don’t want your school or employer to see, don’t use their computers to look at it.
Protecting yourself online
Be wary of strangers sending you friend requests or wanting information about you.
Check your privacy settings on all your accounts.
Remember that pictures, posts and comments can still be available, even if you’ve deleted them or your account. Keep in mind that people can also save your photos or take screen shots of what you’ve posted online.
Never give out your personal details online (for example, full date of birth, address, your school).
Always remember to log out of your accounts.
The Legal Services Commission gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Legal Aid NSW and the National Children’s and Youth Legal Centre in allowing the Legal Services Commission of South Australia to use and adapt existing content.