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NY court slaps down Facebook's attempt to keep accounts secret from search warrants

Jurisdiction a problem for The Social Network™

By Richard Chirgwin, 5 Apr 2017

Facebook has lost more skin in its battle to avoid handing over user account details to a US court.

In a 5‑1 decision documented by Judge Leslie Stein, the New York State Court of Appeals today said it lacks the jurisdiction to overturn the warrants, and that challenging warrants is none of Facebook’s business – that’s up to the targets of the warrants.

The 381 warrants were issued in July 2013 by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, as part of an investigation into suspected social security disability fraud.

As Reuters reports, “Among the targets were retired police officers and firefighters suspected of feigning illness after the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.”

The warrants, issued under America’s Stored Communications Act, were going after the Facebook “account information and communications” of those under investigation. Facebook has been resisting the warrants ever since they were issued, and maintained that position even after the threat of criminal contempt forced it to start turning over account information.

It’s not the first defeat The Social Network™ has suffered in the case: its current appeal was trying to overturn a July 2015 ruling by the Manhattan state appeals court. Facebook had tried to argue that the warrants were too broad, and that they overstepped the mark by demanding it not tell users the warrants existed.

The court papers reveal that 62 Facebook users have already been indicted in the investigation.

Facebook had high-profile support in resisting the warrants, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

The court declined to discuss whether the warrants were constitutionally valid, saying it’s up to state legislators to change the law.

The one dissenting judge, Rowan Wilson, expressed concern that people swept up in the warrants included high school students accused of nothing worse than knowing people involved in the investigation. ®

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