Facebook’s goal is to protect people’s information on Facebook, so when a government requests data, it’s a big deal to Facebook. Facebook has strict policies in place for law enforcement requests and have published these procedures publicly for anyone to review.
Their team scrutinizes each request they receive individually and checks for legally valid and complete documentation from law enforcement. They regularly push back on requests that are vague or overly broad. Their recent Government Requests report here has more details.
Since last summer, they’ve been fighting hard against a set of sweeping search warrants issued by a court in New York that demanded they turn over nearly all data from the accounts of 381 people who use their service, including photos, private messages and other information. This unprecedented request is by far the largest they’ve ever received—by a magnitude of more than ten—and they have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start.
Of the 381 people whose accounts were the subject of these warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected. The government also obtained gag orders that prohibited Facebook from discussing this case and notifying any of the affected people until now.
Facebook has 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. Facebook fought forcefully against these 381 requests and were told by a lower court that as an online service provider Facebook didn’t even have the legal standing to contest the warrants. Facebook complied only after the appeals court denied their application to stay this ruling, and after the prosecutor filed a motion to find them in criminal contempt.
Last Friday, Facebook filed an appellate brief in support of their continuing efforts to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized and retained. Immediately after Facebook filed their appeal, the government moved to unseal the warrants and all court filings, which has allowed Facebook to finally notify the people whose accounts were affected about the warrants and Facebook’s ongoing legal efforts.
But Facebook feels strongly that there is more work to do, and they will continue their legal fight to retrieve data that has been seized and retained by the government. Facebook recognizes that law enforcement needs to investigate potential crimes, but they believe all government data requests must be narrowly tailored, proportionate to the case, and subject to strict judicial oversight. Moreover, Facebook believes search warrants for digital information should be specific and narrow in scope, just like warrants for physical evidence. These restrictions are critical to preventing overreaching legal requests and protecting people’s information.
Facebook will continue to fight on your behalf, and they recognize the importance of this responsibility. They look forward to keeping you updated about their progress.