Facebook Gag Order For User Account Search Warrants

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Facebook is challenging a court order that prevents them from informing users that their accounts are being searched by authorities. Tech companies and civil liberties groups are in full support.

Gag Order

Federal government and Facebook are in a First Amendment fight over the gag order that disallows the company to notify its users of the search warrants for their accounts.

The online giant Facebook, received three search warrants from the government for three account records in a three-month period, say limited court records released. Accompanied with a nondisclosure order from a District of Columbia Superior Court judge, the warrants prevent Facebook from informing users before the company was forced to comply.

The details are still sealed. There’s talk that the warrants aided in mass arrests in Washington DC during the Trump inauguration. Several tech companies, civil liberty groups and consumer advocacy organizations, filed papers in support of Facebook’s fight against the gag order.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Citizen Litigation Group wrote in one of the briefs, “The Constitution can offer adequate protection only if the targets of seemingly overbroad warrants, such as those at issue here, know their rights are under threat.”

In June 14, a three-page public notice was approved by the DC Court of Appeals, that notify public about the nature of the warrants. The challenge raises two main issues; one, if the nondisclosure violates the First Amendment and secondly, whether the users in question are allowed to contest warrants.

Liberties

Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of DC, adds that the unspecified nature of the warrants and the random seizure of their photos, notes etc. “violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that warrants must ‘particularly describ[e] … the things to be seized’ – a requirement that was designed to prohibit just such ‘general warrants.’”

“The underlying warrants are apparently calculated to invade the right of Facebook’s users to speak and associate anonymously on a matter of public interest, and the First Amendment requires that the users be accorded notice and the opportunity to contest the warrants,” argue EFF lawyers and digital rights groups in the brief.

Facebook spokesperson expressed to press that Facebook was “grateful to the companies and civil society organizations that are supporting us in arguing for people’s constitutional rights to learn about and challenge these search warrants.”