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Government Surveillance

CDT Challenges Overly Broad Surveillance Demand On Facebook

Today, the Center for Democracy & Technology joined the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in defense of the rights of 381 Facebook users whose records were sought en masse by the Manhattan District Attorney. We filed a brief in the highest court in New York State arguing that Facebook has the right to challenge the warrants on behalf of its users, and to notify its users that the government was seeking the contents of their accounts.

Internet users entrust enormous amounts of private information to Facebook and other communications service providers in the digital age. These companies must be empowered to assert their users’ privacy rights because the users have no idea that the government is seeking their information, and therefore cannot assert their own rights.

The warrants, which were substantially identical, sought what the lower court described as essentially every posting and action of each of the 381 Facebook users in a large- scale investigation of Social Security fraud. Each came with a gag order barring Facebook from informing its users. If allowed to stand, this type of warrant process would set a troubling precedent. Not only would companies be barred from talking about the warrants or challenging them on behalf of their users, the same process could later be used to routinely gain access to many accounts with limited court oversight and other judicial protections.