Privacy Law

In Facebook Age, Do Photos Carry Expectation of Privacy? Placenta Opinion Raises the Issue

A judge’s ruling on behalf of a nursing student ousted from school for a distasteful Facebook photo raises questions about expectations of privacy.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren of Kansas ruled on behalf of nursing student Doyle Byrnes, who posted a photo of herself posing with a human placenta on Facebook, the Kansas City Star reported earlier this month. Byrnes had maintained she shouldn’t have been expelled because her instructor allowed the photographs to be taken and was told they would be posted to Facebook. She claimed the expulsion violated her due process rights.

Now Melgren’s opinion has been released, and it appears to suggest there is no expectation of privacy once a photo is taken, Kashmir Hill writes at her Forbes blog The Not-So Private Parts.

The blog points to a section of the opinion in which Melgren noted that the instructor had admitted allowing the photos to be taken, although she denied knowing they were to be posted on Facebook.

“Photos are taken to be viewed,” Melgren wrote. “When [the nursing instructor] granted permission to take the photos, it was unreasonable to assume that they would not be viewed. If the photos were objectionable, to say nothing of objectionable to the point warranting expulsion from the nursing program, then it would not have mattered whether the photos were viewed on Facebook or elsewhere. By giving the students permission to take the photos, … it was reasonable to anticipate that the photos would be shown to others.”

Hill comments that she can think of plenty of photos that aren’t meant to be viewed by others, including sex photos. “Next time your significant other wants to snap some salacious shots in the bedroom, you may want to think back on this placenta case (much as it might ruin the mood),” she writes.

The Technology and Marketing Law Blog also highlighted the opinion.

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