Major tech companies are stepping up in support of Facebook after the social networking company was ordered to give prosecutors private messages, group affiliations, photos and other account information associated with more than 380 individuals who have been named in a fraud case.
Facebook's appeal has received the support of Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, Kickstarter, Meetup, Pinterest, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Unless Facebook is able to assert its subscribers' constitutional rights -- and any of its own rights -- the legality of the government's actions with respect to those subscribers will escape review altogether. And had the government chosen to indict no one, no one would have been the wiser," stated a joint filing from Dropbox, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yelp. No one would have been the wiser because there was a gag order placed on Facebook in July 2013 and it could not notify users. The gag order was lifted this June.
With approximately 829 million users sending data to its servers each day, Facebook has evolved into a giant target for data-farming advertisers and government entities that are seemingly beyond reproach.
The government should be as transparent as possible and use the narrowest means available when seeking information about citizens, according to Alex Abdo, staff attorney for the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Adbo said the Edward Snowden revelations have reminded citizens to be vigilant against broad intrusions into their privacy
Adbo said that Facebook was justified in its fight against handing over user data. Director Donna Lieberman, of the ACLU's New York affiliate, shared Abdo's sentiments.
"The sensitive information we share on social media, like where we're going and who we're seeing, our political affiliations, our hobbies and our private conversations, are owed the highest level of protection," said Lieberman. "Government entities shouldn't be conducting broad fishing expeditions into our personal and social conversations with our family and friends with no regard to our privacy."
The Manhattan district attorney's office was granted warrants that enabled it to secure virtually all data related to 381 Facebook accounts, back in July 2013. Facebook contested the warrants in August 2013, but the requests were denied in September 2013. Facebook could not notify users of the accounts that were subject to the warrants because of the gag order.
The DA was said to have taken measures to have the gag order lifted after Facebook began contesting the constitutionality of the entire matter. While Facebook has been challenging the validity of the warrants as they pertain to the Stored Communications Act and the First Amendment, the Manhattan's district attorney's office said it collects evidence wherever it is available.
"Facebook is not a defendant in the present case, which resulted in charges against more than 100 people for stealing from U.S. taxpayers," stated the Manhattan's district attorney's office. "Two judges have previously ruled that the District Attorney's request was lawful. Prosecutors have a right and a responsibility to collect evidence in criminal cases, wherever that information is stored."