Facebook takes search warrant challenge to NY's top court (Update)

February 7, 2017 by David Klepper

Facebook and Manhattan prosecutors went to New York state's highest court Tuesday to settle a legal dispute over search warrants for users' accounts, a closely watched case with big implications for online privacy.

An attorney for Facebook told the judges that it must be allowed to object when law enforcement seeks search warrants for its users' information. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. argued it is up to individual Facebook users to fight any effort to obtain personal information for criminal investigations.

Prosecutors sought search warrants in 2013 for the accounts of 381 people in connection with a disability benefits fraud case against New York City police and fire retirees.

The Menlo Park, California-based social media company challenged the warrants, but lower courts sided with prosecutors, ruling that Facebook didn't have legal standing to object since the target was information about possible suspects—not Facebook. Facebook turned over the data but has continued to contest the actions of prosecutors.

Facebook attorney Thomas Dupree said the search warrants were unprecedented in their scope. Facebook regularly works with law enforcement but has to be allowed to object when it feels a search warrant is overly broad, he said.

"This case involves the DA's seizure of the most personal and intimate information imaginable," Dupree said. "These are people's private thoughts and communications, on their lives, their identities, their families, their politics, their religion, their sexuality, all captured in the DA's dragnet."

Vance said anyone whose Facebook information is seized has the right to sue prosecutors for damages or challenge the admissibility of the evidence in court. He also noted that prosecutors must go before a judge before obtaining search warrants.

"Law enforcement is always going to be bumping up against people's privacy," he said. The search warrants for social media posts, he added, are "really no different than if we issued a search warrant into someone's house and took books and records or a car or a safe deposit box."

In the alleged disabilities fraud case against police and fire retirees, prosecutors sought the social media content in an attempt to show the retirees were leading active lives and lying about disabilities.

A decision is expected within a few months.

Explore further: Facebook: NYC prosecutors got data on 381 users

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Musk, Zuckerberg duel over artificial intelligence

July 25, 2017

Visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg were trading jabs on social media over artificial intelligence this week in a debate that has turned personal between the two technology luminaries.

Microsoft Paint brushed aside

July 24, 2017

Microsoft on Monday announced the end of days for its pioneering Paint application as it focuses on software for 3-D drawing.

Hyperloop or hyperbole? Musk promises NY-DC run in 29 mins

July 21, 2017

US entrepreneur Elon Musk said Thursday he'd received tentative approval from the government to build a conceptual "hyperloop" system that would blast passenger pods down vacuum-sealed tubes from New York to Washington at ...

Google, EU dig in for long war

July 20, 2017

Google and the EU are gearing up for a battle that could last years, with the Silicon Valley behemoth facing a relentless challenge to its ambition to expand beyond search results.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.