A New York appeals court has rebuffed Facebook in a battle over digital privacy, ruling that the social network cannot challenge search warrants seeking information about hundreds of its users.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in 2013 issued 381 substantially identical digital search warrants for Facebook accounts as part of an investigation of Social Security fraud. The warrants applied to users’ photos, private messages, and other account information.
In affirming a trial court judge who threw out Facebook’s claim that the warrants violated users’ Fourth Amendment rights, the appeals court said Facebook had no legal standing to challenge search warrants on behalf of its customers.
“Facebook is seeking the right to litigate pre-enforcement the constitutionality of the warrants on its customers’ behalf,” the court said. “But neither the Constitution nor New York Criminal Procedure Law provides the targets of the warrant the right to such a pre-enforcement challenge … We see no basis for providing Facebook a greater right than its customers are afforded.”
Tech giants, including Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter, filed briefs in support of Facebook, arguing that the case could set a troubling precedent by giving prosecutors access to all kinds of digital information.
“Internet companies are pushing back broadly against U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ demands for customer data, in the wake of revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of wide-ranging online surveillance,” Reuters noted.
The warrants served on Facebook were used to obtain indictments for disability fraud against more than 130 police officers and other former public employees. Prosecutors said Facebook pages showed public employees who claimed to be disabled riding jet skis, playing golf, and participating in martial arts events.
The appellate court did not rule on the legality of the warrants but said its decision “does not mean that we do not appreciate Facebook’s concerns about the scope of the bulk warrants issued here or about the district attorney’s alleged right to indefinitely retain the seized accounts of the uncharged Facebook users.”