Internet Law

Facebook's bid to protect customer information in criminal probe fails in top New York court

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Facebook can’t appeal a judge’s refusal to quash 381 warrants for customer information in a criminal investigation of Social Security disability fraud, New York’s highest court has ruled.

New York law does not authorize an appeal, leaving the court without jurisdiction to address the “novel and important” privacy issues, the New York Court of Appeals ruled. (sub. req.), the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog have stories, while the Legal Profession Blog has highlights from the April 4 decision (PDF).

According to the Law Blog, prosecutors obtained the warrants after disability claimants “were seen on Facebook looking healthy.”

Facebook had argued the warrants, issued under the federal Stored Communications Act of 1986, were unconstitutional because they were overbroad and lacked particularity. Facebook had claimed it could appeal because warrants for digital data were more akin to subpoenas, which can be challenged on appeal, than to warrants for tangible property.

The Court of Appeals, in its 5-1 decision, disagreed with Facebook’s argument, even though important issues would be left unsettled.

“This case undoubtedly implicates novel and important substantive issues regarding the constitutional rights of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the parameters of a federal statute establishing methods by which the government may obtain certain types of information,” the court said.

Nonetheless, the court said, it is constrained from ruling by New York’s criminal procedure law.

The case is In Re 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc.

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