Internet Law

Facebook appeal claims DA's request for data on 381 people violates Fourth Amendment


Facebook is contesting the Manhattan District’s Attorney’s right to obtain Facebook information for 381 people, though a judge already forced the social network to release the information.

Facebook filed an appeal last Friday, and documents in the case were unsealed on Wednesday, report the New York Times and a Facebook statement. Prosecutors say the information helped in their cases against more than 130 police officers, firefighters and other government workers accused of collecting disability benefits.

According to prosecutors, charged individuals claimed they were too disabled to work even as their Facebook accounts indicated they engaged in activities such as teaching karate and deep-sea fishing.

Facebook says only 62 of the 381 account holders were among those charged in the case. “This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected,” Facebook says. The DA’s office says its disability-fraud investigation is continuing.

Judge Melissa Jackson of New York ordered Facebook last September to keep the search warrants secret. Jackson also ruled that Facebook had no standing to assert the privacy interest of its subscribers, and in any event the search warrants were justified. An appeals court denied a stay of the ruling.

Facebook’s new appeal says the Fourth Amendment doesn’t allow the government to seize the Facebook information, and the First Amendment doesn’t allow the government to forbid Facebook from disclosing that it was compelled to turn over the account data.

“This appeal arises from the largest set of search warrants that Facebook has ever received and presents important questions concerning the lawful limits on searches and seizures in the digital age,” the appeal says. Facebook says government requests for information should be narrowly tailored and proportionate to the case.

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