NY Prosecutors Regain $18m Through Facebook Warrants

Prosecutors in New York have taken in $18m in civil and government cases using warrants to search Facebook accounts despite opposition from the social media giant.

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Photo: Gil C / Shutterstock

Facebook has disputed the warrants as unconstitutional, stating that it violates the private constitutional rights of the 381 users whose messages, photos, and content were confiscated.

A total of 130 indictments were brought in the case for Social Security fraud against New York civil servants. Above 90 defendants pleaded guilty and agreed to restitution.

Though Facebook agreed with the warrant search when they were issued in 2013, the company is taking a strong stand against the practice of using warrants to search private user accounts.

Many other tech companies and civil privacy advocates, such as Twitter, Google and the American Civil Liberties Union, have supported the stand, but the District Attorney’s filing said Facebook has no right to defend the constitutional rights of its users on their behalf.

The brief also mentioned Facebook’s stance on privacy, stating that privacy is determined on a case-by-case basis by the individual.

“Some customers treat their accounts as ‘digital homes,’ and maintain some degree of privacy,” said the brief. “Others treat their accounts more as digital billboards, broadcasting material to dozens or even hundreds of others, thus abandoning any claim of privacy.”

Though Facebook’s efforts won’t overturn any decision, it could prevent the evidence (content of individual user accounts that were searched) from being used in court. Also, it could set a precedent for other cases moving forward that holds evidence taken from user accounts.

Authorities Searching Facebook Accounts

This isn’t the first time Facebook accounts have been searched for fraud cases. Facebook said in June that it has been fighting a court order that has required it to disclose information involving hundreds of accounts since summer 2013.

“This unprecedented request is by far the largest we’ve ever received — by a magnitude of more than ten — and we have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start,” Facebook’s deputy general counsel, Chris Sonderby, said in a statement at the time.

Such cases raises privacy concerns when Facebook users store a plethora of personal information in their Facebook accounts.

Facebook revealed that 381 accounts were subject to warrants out of a New York court, and 62 later underwent charges in a disability fraud case. Facebook has also been under a gag order, which prevented it from discussing the case or notifying members affected, until recently.

Facebook, along with other tech companies like Apple and Google, disclosed data on the number of subpoenas, search warrants and disclosures request it has receive from government bodies at the end of last year. The requests are similar to those coming under scrutiny in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks.