The Social Security Administration last month told its disability-claims judges they are no longer to seek out information from websites when deciding cases — taking away a tool some of those judges say would help in uncovering fraud. ...
Social Security’s ban covers all Internet sites, including social media such as Facebook.The problem with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) searching social media sites for information on a claimant is what lawyers call ex parte evidence, that is evidence that the ALJ receives without the claimant's knowledge. Deciding a case on ex parte evidence is a serious matter. It goes beyond simply making a mistake. It's a denial of due process. Of course, it would be possible to see something online, send the claimant and his or her attorney a copy of what you saw and allow them to respond, which makes it acceptable but it's way to easy to forget to give the claimant a chance to respond. The problem with banning this is that it may just drive it underground.
But Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and a top taxpayer watchdog, said avoiding the Internet means giving up a valuable anti-fraud weapon — one that he said even federal courts have relied upon in some disability cases.
“If an individual claims to be disabled, and then publicly posts a picture participating in a sport or physical activity on a social media website, such information should be used by [adjudicators] to determine if the claimant was truly disabled,” Mr. Coburn wrote in a letter last week to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.