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Facebook reveals its legal campaign against mass surveillance

Gives the government a poke
Fri Jun 27 2014, 09:31

FACEBOOK HAS REVEALED its efforts to keep the Manhattan District Attorney's hands off its customers' information.

The social network, which has been accused of not being a friend of privacy in the past, has presented a more open face since last year and its first government surveillance transparency report.

In the spirit of this, Facebook deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby has published an account of the fight the firm has had in New York to oppose demands to release data relating to 381 social networkers.

"Our goal is to protect people's information on Facebook, so when a government requests data, it's a big deal to us. We have strict policies in place for law enforcement requests and have published these procedures publicly for anyone to review," he said.

"Since last summer, we've been fighting hard against a set of sweeping search warrants issued by a court in New York that demanded we turn over nearly all data from the accounts of 381 people who use our service, including photos, private messages and other information. This unprecedented request is by far the largest we've ever received - by a magnitude of more than [10] - and we have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start."

Sonderby said that of the people whose data was requested and surrendered, 62 were charged for disability fraud. His concern is that information belonging to the other 300 or so individuals was demanded for no reason.

Facebook took its opposing position to court, but was told, "As an online service provider we didn't even have the legal standing to contest the warrants."

This kind of bulk, shotgun blast of requests is not what Facebook wants to deal with, and it would prefer to be more open with its users.

"The government also obtained gag orders that prohibited us from discussing this case and notifying any of the affected people until now," he added.

"We've gone to court and repeatedly asserted that these overly broad warrants - which contain no date restrictions and allow the government to keep the seized data indefinitely - violate the privacy rights of the people on Facebook and ignore Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures."

The firm's most recent move was filing an appellate brief to invalidate sweeping warrants and reunite it with the data that was "seized and retained". That led the government to unseal warrants and court filings, Sonderby's revelations, and informing the affected punters.

That is one victory for Facebook, and it promised its many million users that their data is important to it.

"We feel strongly that there is more work to do, and we will continue our legal fight to retrieve data that has been seized and retained by the government," he added.

"We will continue to fight on your behalf, and we recognize the importance of this responsibility. We look forward to keeping you updated about our progress." µ


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