DOJ's Facebook Warrants Target Thousands Of Users For Protesting Inauguration

from the round-up-the-usual-social-media-accounts dept

The ACLU is going to court to fight government warrants seeking info on thousands of Facebook users who interacted with a Facebook page related to Inauguration Day protests. The resulting arrests have generated several extremely broad search warrants seeking communications and other personal information from Facebook and the protest site’s hosting provider.

For awhile, the targets of these warrants could only be guessed at, thanks to the gag order attached to the Facebook warrants. The gag order was finally lifted by the DOJ less than a day before it was due in court for oral arguments. It wasn’t Facebook securing a win so much as it was the government avoiding a loss — a possibly-precedential ruling on gag orders in Washington, DC courts.

The fight goes on, with the charged protesters — and Facebook itself — fighting the overbroad warrants.Thanks to the last-minute lifting of the gag order, the targeted protesters are fully aware of the government’s efforts. More importantly, they’re able to participate in challenging the warrants before the government takes possession of their personal data.

Paul Levy of Public Citizen points to the latest filing by the ACLU, and makes it clear there’s a lot of personal info at stake.

Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour… were identified on the web site as media contacts for that web site. The demand for a search of the DisruptJ20 Facebook page is troublesome for the same reason that the demand for the search of the web site threatens First Amendment values — even if we assume that some member of the grouping that called itself DisruptJ20 organizers was at the same time secretly plotting a riot, that not should be a basis for subjecting everybody who was in touch with the DisruptJ20 Facebook page to investigation by Trump Administration prosecutors.

The demand to search the Facebook accounts of MacAuley and Carrefour is even more troubling. Individual Facebook accounts often contain highly personal matters, and if political opponents of the Trump Administration know that they can too easily have their entire Facebook accounts searched just because it turns out that some coalition of which they were a part included somebody who was secretly planning a riot, the chilling effect on future participation in anti-Trump political activity could be substantial.

The chilling effect — and the demands for data — go much further than these two individuals. A third warrant seeks access to info on the DisruptJ20 Facebook page. With this warrant, the government can obtain data on thousands of Facebook users.

Although the page is public, the warrant would require the disclosure of non-public lists of people who planned to attend political organizing events and even the names of people who simply liked, followed, reacted to, commented on, or otherwise engaged with the content on the Facebook page. During the three-month span the search warrant covers, approximately 6,000 Facebook users liked the page.

This echoes the tactics used by the DOJ against Dreamhost. The warrant served to the service provider originally asked for info on all visitors to the DisruptJ20 site — 1.3 million users in total. These expansive demands create a massive chilling effect. Any activists and event organizers could easily have their digital lives turned upside down simply by visiting pages and websites the government chooses to target post-demonstration. The warrant for visitors to the Facebook page may only seek a list of visitors, but it’s likely the first step in seeking additional warrants to gather a wealth of personal info on people who did nothing more than “like” a Facebook page.

What the government wants on the two charged demonstrators is… everything. The warrants [PDF] not only ask for everything they’ve posted to Facebook, but the contents of private messages, any Facebook searches they’ve performed, deleted posts/comments, and any pending or rejected Friend requests.

The ACLU is trying to quash these warrants on behalf of the targets, but it first has to get the DC criminal court’s official invitation. Its motion to quash/intervene [PDF] is currently awaiting the court’s examination.

It’s unusual basic rioting charges have resulted in a Fourth Amendment battle, but that’s how much social media has shifted the way we communicate. As we spend more and more time online, the government is going to be showing less and less interest in our physical houses and papers. And even as the government avails itself of vastly-increased amounts of personal information, it’s keeping its own houses/file cabinets locked up tight: Post-demonstration rioting charges are standard operating procedure for law enforcement agencies, which makes you wonder what they’re trying to hide behind gag orders and sealed dockets.

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Comments on “DOJ's Facebook Warrants Target Thousands Of Users For Protesting Inauguration”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Post-demonstration rioting charges are standard operating procedure for law enforcement agencies, which makes you wonder what they’re trying to hide behind gag orders and sealed dockets.

The hiding is not to hide their activities, but rather to scare people away from participating in politics. The message being sent is that if you protest the government, the first you will know of any investigation is the arrival of the SWAT squad to arrest you, so stay out of politics other than voting for those people on the ballots.


Re: Violence as "free speech".

People should be scared away from rioting. Political violence shouldn’t be tolerated regardless of who starts it and what label you want to hang on them.

People love to talk about Nazis as if they were just people that said evil things. They were much more than that. From the very beginning they were thugs that wandered around beating up political rivals.

All speech should be tolerated. As soon as it goes beyond that, the boom needs to come down before society is overwhelmed and unable to deal with it anymore.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

(taken from my twitters @That_AC come for the talk, stay for the mocking)
How soon until they start the hearings to purge those who are seen as committing Un-American Activities?

Would protesting be a “belligerent act”?
Flag burning?
Telling Trump he’s a waste of human flesh?

They seriously are moving to the idea of head of Homeland Security being able to yank peoples citizenship. Considering Trump said he wanted to do that to flag burners…

Can you say tinpot dictatorship? I knew you could.
Murica! Home of the free*

*- so long as your exercise of those freedoms don’t annoy your betters.

Anonymous Coward says:

I dislike being "law'n'order conservative", but you kids are WAY out there.

"easily have their entire Facebook accounts searched"! Man, it’s like those are PUBLIC!

"just because it turns out that some coalition of which they were a part included somebody who was secretly planning a riot" — First, wasn’t secret if planning done on Facebook. 2nd, everyone innocent should be at least neutral that the gov’t is NOW looking for evidence of crimes. This is not a witch hunt without basis, or gov’t suppressing ahead of events: it’s POST FACTO investigation of actual planned and organized crimes.

"post-demonstration" is the euphemism by which you evade "post-criminal".

As with any crime anywhere at any time, the innocent must suffer being investigated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I dislike being "law'n'order conservative", but you kids are WAY out there.

First, wasn’t secret if planning done on Facebook.

Use Facebook to get lots of people to turn up to the protest, while meeting in private with a small group to riot while the crowd is slowing down the police. So the riot could be planned in secret, while at the same time acting in public to get a large crowd to attend thinking that they are only protesting.

2nd, everyone innocent should be at least neutral that the gov’t is NOW looking for evidence of crimes

Not when they are going fishing in every bodies data by using tenuous connections. Are you absolutely certain that you have not visited a page that has got you onto list of people to be investigated in secret?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I dislike being

they are only public if you let them be public. regardless of how public an account is, everything in an account is not public. if it is so damn public, they can just go look, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, does it?

yeah, they are going to “investigate” all those accounts. lmfao. they just want all the data they can get their hands on to intimidate and screw with innocent people. then they will never purge the results of the fishing expedition so they can use it later. they can get all this from NSA anyway,
just they still don’t want to be seen doing it. there is still a little exposure when they go to court. but court isn’t the aim anyway. it is intimidation like communist hunting.

sure, innocent people get investigated in the course of a crime. but they are investigated one at a time with proper warrants (well they are supposed to be) for proper searches in each individual case where they can provide probable cause. there is no probable cause to look at everything on thousands or millions of people at once, and have copies of all that information forever.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: I dislike being "law'n'order conservative", but you kids are WAY out there.

I know, it’s like no one understands Gestapo Law & Order anymore. This would be such a useful tool for law enforcement.

Take Stephen Paddock for example: I don’t know if he’s a member of the NRA, but law enforcement needs to get a warrant to search the communications of everyone who’s an NRA member, and everyone who visited the NRA website. After all there might be another member somewhere who participated in planning this crime.

Gotta to stop that crime. What’s wrong with intimidating a few million innocents, when you’re trying to stop crime?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think he lied about the huge turnout at the inaugural speech as his speeches go maybe it was a truly huge turnout!! Sorry Mr President.. I couldn’t resist. But while we’re on the subject of free speech, I’d like to offer up my expertise in helping to kidnap kimjong and put him in a rocket and launch him off the planet straight to the moon. I will make the Tang for his trip.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: sellout lawyers

Have you never heard of “parallel construction”?

But that aside, don’t you think that having a couple of FBI agents drop by to ask you (and your neighbors, and your boss) about your visit to, say, the Breitbart website, might make you feel a bit politically intimidated?

Oh I suppose you might counter that Breitbart didn’t do anything illegal, but I’m sure we can find someone associated with it that did. And then we’ll need to make sure that no one who visited the site participated in the crime.

Anonymous Coward says:

I would have though that most people would realize that “private” is as private as the data is to the lowliest worker who handles that data. So don’t trust anybody else to keep your data private on a cloud you don’t control completely, as social media businesses change hands and policies.

“If it’s “free”, you’re the “product””, not the “customer”.

Any “free” social media platform is using your data for money and giving you services in return. Until this is outlawed, it will always be so.

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