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.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Oct 2017 @ 12:08pm

    "It also shows the government will make concessions, rather than risk adverse rulings."

    They refuse to take cases that might be hard, because it might hurt their win ratio. The bankers, they had tons of evidence, but feared the bankers bringing in experts to confuse the jury... so they didn't pursue.

    The entire system is more concerned with "wins" than justice, so bad people can keep doing bad things if they can put up a reasonable fight, and good people can get buried so they can have a slam dunk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 19 Oct 2017 @ 3:27pm

      Re:

      Kinda makes you cringe at the hypocrisy every time someone calls it the justice system, doesn't it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2017 @ 4:37am

      Re:

      "The bankers, they had tons of evidence, but feared the bankers bringing in experts to confuse the jury... so they didn't pursue."

      Does anyone actually believe this excuse?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 19 Oct 2017 @ 12:17pm

    Likes

    > Justice dropped its request for the names of an estimated
    > 6,000 people who “liked” a Facebook page about an
    > Inauguration Day protest

    Also, the government (and everyone else) needs to get past this idea that "liking" something on these social media platforms actually means you like or support it.

    Just because Facebook or Twitter calls the feature "like" doesn't mean that's how people are using it. I use the Twitter feature like a bookmark. If it's something I anticipate I might want to find again, or if it links to article I don't have time to read now but want to come back to later, I hit the little "like" button, which tags it so that it's easily findable again. It doesn't mean I actually like or support whatever was in that posting.

    But even if it did mean like or support, that's still no business of the government's since the 1st Amendment gives me the right to like whatever I want and the right to publicize it to the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 19 Oct 2017 @ 1:11pm

      Re: Likes

      Also, the government (and everyone else) needs to get past this idea that "liking" something on these social media platforms actually means you like or support it.

      There's also the question of what happens after you endorse something.

      Consider all the architects & engineers who signed a petition calling for an independent investigation of 9/11. You sign based on wanting to know what warnings the White House ignored.... and only later the claim is made that the signatures endorse the "inside job" wingnuttery.

      This could be done with any radical cause.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2017 @ 2:52am

        Re: Re: Likes

        "...get past this idea that "liking" something on these social media platforms actually means you like or support it."

        I remember being amused to learn that the Internetz had coined the expression "hate likes" for "likes" such as those given to Amy's Baking Company as a result of Amy-and-Samy's Kitchen Nightmares fiasco. Merely drawing attention to something via "liking" does NOT demand true liking.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 19 Oct 2017 @ 2:06pm

    So they never were after any criminals, then

    All the judge asked for is for the government to narrow down the list to real suspects. If presenting their evidence and showing a suspect list is too much effort for the DOJ, one wonders what the real reason for the so called "investigation" might have been in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 19 Oct 2017 @ 3:15pm

    Judges need to be a lot better in the first go round for warrant requests. They look as bad as the executive branch ops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2017 @ 2:40am

    Presumption of Innocence

    I know we're supposed to presume that people are innocent until proven guilty, but my current, default position is that the DoJ is acting criminally until proven otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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