Facebook tries to recover bulk user data seized by New York law enforcement

Facebook has filed an appeal for the return of the data and for a ruling on several legal points

Facebook user data in bulk was sought last year by the New York County District Attorney's office and a court directed it to produce virtually all records and communications for 381 accounts, the company disclosed Thursday.

The social networking giant is now asking the court for the return or destruction of the data as well as a ruling on whether the bulk warrants violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and other laws. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of property.

The company said that since last July it has been fighting a set of sweeping search warrants issued by the Supreme Court for New York County that demanded that it turn over to law enforcement nearly all data from the accounts of the 381 people, including photos, private messages and other information.

Facebook was also prohibited from informing the targeted persons, who included "high schoolers to grandparents, from all over New York and across the United States," and electricians, school teachers, and members of the country's armed services.

Of the 381 people whose accounts were covered under the warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case, Facebook's deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby wrote in a post on Thursday.

The request from New York is described by the company as the largest it has received, "by a magnitude of more than ten."

The social networking company last Friday asked the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court to force the government to return the data it has seized and retained.

The government's own investigation confirms "that most of the Facebook user data seized by the Government is irrelevant to the charges alleged, and the search warrants are overbroad and constitutionally defective," the company wrote in the court filing.

After Facebook filed the appeal, the government unsealed the warrants and all court filings, which has enabled Facebook to notify the people whose accounts were affected about the warrants and its ongoing legal efforts, Sonderby wrote.

Facebook's appeal focuses on whether it has the standing to challenge the warrants, whether the warrants, which authorized collection of large amounts of personal information and communications without an "apparent connection to the crimes under investigation, or procedures requiring the return of the seized information" are in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and whether the gag provisions of the warrants violate the Stored Communications Act and the First Amendment.

The trial court had ruled in the negative on these issues, Facebook wrote in the filing. In an order dated Sept. 17 last year, Judge Melissa C. Jackson denied Facebook's motion to quash the 381 search warrants and required Facebook to locate and produce user information.

Facebook claims it has standing to contest the warrants for a number of reasons, including third-party standing that "will avoid diluting the constitutional rights of hundreds of individuals whose personal information has now been seized by the Government without their knowledge."

"The vast scope of the Government's search and seizure here would be unthinkable in the physical world," Facebook wrote in its filing, comparing the demand for all communications and information in 24 broad categories from the 381 targeted accounts as the digital equivalent of seizing everything in someone's home.

"Sometimes 'come back with a warrant' is not enough," wrote digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation in a blog post. "The warrant must also conform to constitutional limitations, narrowly seeking evidence of a crime with particularity, based on probable cause."

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags regulationsecuritylegalgovernmentprivacyFacebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?