Is this legal?
October 24, 2011 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Has someone violated my rights?

I live at an adult foster care home (basically a mental hospital) where you are not allowed to have cameras. I have a camera and left it on table one day. Staff found it later and I told them it was mine so that I could at least get it back when I am discharged from the home. Today the vice president told me that they are deleting the photos because they are inappropriate (naked pictures of my girlfriend). Is this legal? I was under the impression that they would not even be allowed to LOOK at the pictures much less delete them even if I wasn't supposed to have the camera to begin with.

Also, this institution prohibits cellphones and one of my friends has a Blackberry that was confiscated after he carelessly left it in a bathroom. The vice president flipped through the phone to find out who the phone belonged to and stumbled upon an email from my gmail account (I borrow his phone often and leave my gmail signed in cause he doesn't have gmail). The vice president claims the email was already on the screen once she opened the phone's browser. She did read some of the contents of the e mail, however. Did she commit a crime in this instance?

Say that what the vice president did was a federal offense. Could I just call the FBI and tell them to investigate the case? If not, would I be able to get some kind of a public defender to represent me or would I just have to pay for a laywer? Thanks for the help, yall.
posted by defmute to Law & Government (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My mom worked in an institution for a long time and from what I understand, there's a lot of rights waived (either wholly or in part) based on the stipulations of your entrance and continued stay at the institution. This is what allows the hospital to, for instance, search you/your room for drugs, if they suspect drug use. Your specific case will depend on the paperwork (some sort of contract, probably) that was signed by either you, or the person or agency who are having you stay at the institution.
posted by griphus at 12:29 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Lawyer, immediately.
posted by mikepop at 12:30 PM on October 24, 2011

To clarify, you couldn't get a public defender unless you were charged with a crime. Try to find someone who knows a good lawyer, lay out the facts as you have above and ask if you have any sort of case. Often a first consult such as this will be low cost or free.
posted by mikepop at 12:33 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Uh, whoops. I forgot the really important part where the only qualified person to interpret that contract is a lawyer.
posted by griphus at 12:34 PM on October 24, 2011

In Wisconsin, there is a state system for filing complaints - the Disability Rights Wisconsin agency and the Department of Quality Assurance. In Wisconsin, you can go directly to a court without first exhausting administrative options. Note: I am not a lawyer.

I would search for "[your state] department of health complaints" and "[your state] patient rights" - for example, here is the Wisconsin State Statute.
posted by desjardins at 12:43 PM on October 24, 2011

You're going to need to find a pro bono lawyer. ACLU might take this case--call the local chapter. I'd also talk to disability rights organizations.

I'm not your lawyer and this isn't legal advice.

If you give us your jurisdiction, then I could direct you to resources.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2011

I am an attorney but I am not your attorney. This is not legal advice.

Contact your local legal aid or legal services organization. They may be able to connect you with an attorney who will work for free or for a highly-reduced fee. Another option is contacting your local or state bar association.

You may have one or more claims here, and one or more crimes may have been committed. But it all depends on where you are located and various other facts that probably shouldn't be discussed on a public website.
posted by jedicus at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

(To clarify: telling us where you are located is fine and encouraged. But there are other details that probably shouldn't be discussed publicly.)
posted by jedicus at 12:45 PM on October 24, 2011

You need to contact an attorney to answer this question. Their response will probably depend on how you came to be in such an institution, whether your placement was the result of any agreement, and if so, what was actually agreed to.

As for calling the FBI... they are not very likely to take this very seriously, or to commit resources to investigate what amounts to a private matter. The lawyer is your best bet. That, and not being in possession of any other contraband during your stay there.
posted by Hylas at 1:32 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The FBI is very much unlikely to care about a camera and this potential rights violation at an adult care home. One of the major factors here is probably whether you and/or your friend are in this home voluntarily or not. If you are there involuntarily for any length of time, someone should have been appointed to speak on your behalf at the various hearings involved, and they should probably be your first call.

There is almost certainly some sort of patient/resident ombudsman at your home and/or available through a state agency. This person may be a good resource to find out your options and to plan a further course of action, if any.
posted by zachlipton at 2:10 PM on October 24, 2011

Best answer: If I were in this situation, I'd file a complain with local licensing board for whatever sort of institution this is. If this situation were common, and if I were feeling like a real shit-disturber and had no reason to fear retribution, I'd try to get anyone else who felt their privacy was violated to do the same. The ACLU is a good resource here, as mentioned above.

In the complaint, I'd express skepticism that possessing naked pictures of a girlfriend hinders treatment in any way, and, if they have no valid medical reason to think it does, I'd express dismay that staff had taken it upon themselves to invade a patient's privacy more than was medically necessary.

Practically-speaking, a lot might hinge on whether that staff has the apparent right to throw out any physical photographs of your girlfriend. If not, you'd have a huge leg up here. However, keep in mind that even if you contracted away certain rights in order to be admitted to this institution, not all rights can be contracted away. Find a lawyer who will work pro bono and who can explain which ones these are.
posted by matlock expressway at 4:40 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The rights question aside, you can likely get your photos back with photorec.
posted by devnull at 12:18 AM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, everyone. I'm definitely going to call the ACLU as two of you have mentioned. I did hear some new information today however. Apparently, the staff deleted the photos and justified it by saying that the photos aren't my property but are the property of the person in the photos (my girlfriend) and my girlfriend did indeed tell the staff to delete the photos. The thing is, though, there were some photos with me in it. Does that mean that the photos with both of us can only be deleted with both our permission?
posted by defmute at 8:25 AM on October 25, 2011

Definitely talk to a lawyer. I am not one, but the idea that a photograph would be the "the property of the person in the photos" doesn't agree with anything I've ever read about copyright, intellectual property, or anything like that.
posted by Lexica at 8:23 PM on October 25, 2011

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