(TNS) -- Facebook, joined by other tech companies and privacy advocates, is challenging the government’s attempt to prohibit the social media giant from telling account holders that prosecutors want their Facebook records.
Search warrants in a Washington, D.C., criminal case would require Facebook to turn over information that would reveal details of its users’ political views, contacts and private lives — and the account holders should have a chance to object in court, the company’s supporters said in filings last week.
“In today’s world, a Facebook account is at once a message board, an email service, a diary, a calendar, a photo book, a video archive, and much more ... akin to a private home” that is constitutionally protected from indiscriminate government searches, the American Civil Liberties Union and advocacy group Public Citizen said in one of the filings.
Prosecutors are demanding records of three Facebook accounts over a three-month period in connection with felony charges filed in Superior Court in the nation’s capital.
Details of the case are under seal, but a footnote in one of the filings — declaring that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy-rights groups do not represent any of the protesters arrested after President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration — appeared to suggest the charges were related to those protests.
“The events underlying the government’s investigation are generally known to the public, and Facebook has preserved all records responsive to the warrants,” the company said in a court filing.
A judge upheld the gag order April 3 and ordered Facebook to turn over the records without notifying its users. The company has appealed the ruling to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which will hear the case in September.
Similar issues have been raised nationally over government orders that prohibit phone companies, banks and other businesses from revealing tens of thousands of “national security letters” requiring them to turn over information from their customers’ accounts. Federal courts have allowed some of the recipients to disclose that they have received the letters.
Arguing in support of Facebook, lawyers for Apple, Microsoft, Google and five other technology companies said the nondisclosure order served no purpose in light of Facebook’s preservation of its users’ records.
“The targets of the government’s investigation cannot destroy evidence of their Facebook activity even if Facebook were to inform them of the government’s demand for their communications,” argued the companies, joined by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Those records involve not only the three account holders but also anyone who communicated with them over Facebook during the three-month period, the ACLU and Public Citizen said in their filing.
The documents could include “communications with spouses and other family members, with romantic partners (or would-be romantic partners) and with political allies,” as well as Facebook “likes” that can reveal social and political opinions, the filing said.
“The targets’ views on a plethora of of political, economic, religious, and social issues will be revealed, not to mention their opinions of movies, books (and) television shows” — disclosures the government should not be allowed to obtain without an opportunity for account holders to object, the advocates said.
©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.