Government Drops Its Demand For Data On 6,000 Facebook Users
from the sunlight-disinfectant dept
It’s amazing what effect a little public scrutiny has on government overreach. In the wake of inauguration day protests, the DOJ started fishing for information from internet service providers. First, it wanted info on all 1.2 million visitors of a protest website hosted by DreamHost. After a few months of bad publicity and legal wrangling, the DOJ was finally forced to severely restrict its demands for site visitor data.
Things went no better with the warrants served to Facebook. These demanded a long list of personal information and communications from three targeted accounts, along with the names of 6,000 Facebook users who had interacted with the protest site’s Facebook page. Shortly before oral arguments were to be heard in the Washington DC court, the DOJ dropped its gag order.
The last minute removal of the gag order appears to have been done to avoid the establishment of unfavorable precedent. It looks like the government perhaps has further concerns about precedential limitations on warrants served to service providers. As Kate Conger reports for Engadget, the DOJ has decided to walk away from this particular warrant challenge.
In a court hearing today, the Department of Justice dropped its request for the names of an estimated 6,000 people who “liked” a Facebook page about an Inauguration Day protest, the American Civil Liberties Union said. The ACLU challenged several warrants related to protests against President Trump’s inauguration on Friday, one of which included the search, claiming they were over-broad.
The ACLU notes the judge seemed sympathetic to allegations of overreach. In response, the government has apparently reduced its demands to info from two arrested protestors’ accounts and further limited the date range from which data is sought.
This isn’t a good look for the government. Dropping demands before an order has been issued indicates the DOJ had some idea its demands were too broad. It also shows the government will make concessions, rather than risk adverse rulings.
Then there’s the whole issue of seeking personal information on protesters. This sort of thing creates a very real chilling effect by threatening to turn over personal information to the same entity the protesters were protesting. Fortunately, the government has walked back most of its demands in both cases.