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A New York appeals court recently ruled that Facebook has no legal standing to challenge search warrants on behalf of its users. This story began back in 2013, when the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office served Facebook with warrants to obtain information from 381 accounts. Photos, private messages, and any other information linked to the accounts were scooped up en masse. The warrants were issued in connection to a disability fraud investigation, where it was believed numerous police and firefighters were lying about their health. The full ruling of the case can be found here.

Initially Facebook tried to have a court quash the enforcement of the warrants. Facebook later complied with the warrants and turned over the data to prosecutors after losing its initial case, but decided to appeal the case in the hopes of setting a precedent that would protect its users in the future. Facebook was supported in its case by major technology companies like Google and Microsoft. This reflects the growing concern many companies have about law enforcement searching their customers’ data. A spokesman from Facebook has stated that they disagreed with the ruling and would try appealing it further.

With this court ruling, Facebook is unable to challenge the warrants that seek to obtain information from its users’ accounts. Instead, the court stated that users who were put on trial could challenge the warrants themselves, and file a motion to have the evidence obtained through the warrants suppressed. This would prevent the evidence from being used at a trial, but does nothing to negate the privacy violation. This ruling affirms that there is no constitutional right to protection from a defective warrant before it is executed, it can only be challenged after the fact.

Scott H. Greenfield, mentions this case in his criminal defense blog. Greenfield was a defense attorney for one of the defendants who was charged in connection to the disability fraud case. His client’s case was dismissed. He states that the targets of the warrant were not made aware of the fact that they were being searched, and Facebook was forbidden from telling users they were being targeted with a warrant. Only Facebook, the prosecutors, and the judge who signed it have ever seen the warrant. Greenfield specifically requested the affidavit that supports the warrant, but the prosecution did not hand it over. Without access to the affidavit, there is no way for the targets to determine if the warrant was well-founded or not.

Do you think this is an invasion of privacy by the Manhattan District Attorney? Or is it a perfectly reasonable execution of search warrants? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.