Court limits DOJ warrant for Facebook data on Trump protesters

Court limits DOJ warrant for Facebook data on Trump protesters

Trump administration's attempt to access protesters' private Facebook data limited by judge

The Trump administration requested Facebook to provide federal prosecutors with extensive personal information on the users, including their names, birthdates, telephone numbers, email addresses, passwords and security questions, physical addresses, IP addresses, credit card numbers, and "all known identifiers for the device (s) used to register or access the Account".

Allowing the government to enforce the search warrants would chill political activists from engaging in protected speech online in the future, the ACLU said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a motion earlier this year to quash the government search warrants targeting the accounts and page, arguing that they are too broad and raised First and Fourth Amendment concerns.

The warrant centers around a Facebook accounts of two D.C. -based protesters and a Facebook page for DisruptJ20, an organization created by group of activists who were attempting to build "the framework needed for mass protests to shut down the inauguration of Donald Trump and planning widespread direct actions to make that happen".

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The court directed Facebook to redact identifying information of people who received Facebook messages from the individual accounts and those who became friends with the account holder.

In February, DC Superior Court Judge Robert Wertheim authorized three search warrants to allow the government to search the Facebook accounts of DisruptJ20, lacymacauley and legba.carrefour after finding probable cause that they contained evidence of "rioting or inciting to riot". The court didn't bend to all of the ACLU's requests mentioned in the suit, however - most crucially, that a neutral third party be appointed to review all material and prevent the government from receiving information "irrelevant" to the investigation. For the Disrupt J20 page, the government will have to tell the judge how it plans to search the data, and can't do any searches without the judge's approval.

"The risk for disclosure of private political speech and association go innocent persons to the government can not be ignored and therefore additional protections are necessary", Mr Morin wrote, adding that "the Warrants in their execution may intrude upon the lawful and otherwise innocuous online expression of innocent users".

Morin wrote that the government established probable cause to access information about the two individual accountholders - Legba Carrefour and Lacy MacAuley - and if any personal information was "intermingled" with potential evidence, that was the outcome of their decision to store data with Facebook, a third-party company.

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"The court agreed to impose safeguards to protect political activity and third-party communications from government snooping, but was not equally careful to protect our clients' private and personal communications", Scott Michelman, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement.

"Our clients, who have not been charged with any crime, expect that when they send private Facebook messages about, for instance, their medical history or traumatic events in their lives, those messages will remain private unless the government shows probable cause to search those particular messages, which it has not done", Michelman said.

The ACLU had also asked the judge to allow the accountholders to formally intervene in the case, which would give them the right to appeal the judge's orders. The judge denied that request.

The office of the USA attorney for D.C. had no comment on the ruling. More than 200 people were arrested, and DOJ issued search warrants asking Facebook to turn over information that could reveal evidence of "rioting or intent to riot".

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