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In Re 381 Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc.

A lower court ruling against Facebook Inc. could prevent New Yorkers from challenging broad-based government search and seizure through electronic warrants, the Brennan Center argued in a brief.

Published: December 30, 2016

The Brennan Center is urging the New York Court of Appeals to allow Facebook to challenge a batch of search warrants for user information in an attempt to head off overbroad demands for personal data.

In 2013, a New York State court issued 381 search warrants directing Facebook to turn over all information related to 381 users as part of a disability fraud investigation. The warrants demanded all account information, including private photos and videos, to messages. While 62 users were eventually prosecuted, the New York County District Attorney’s Office retained the files on the remaining 319 users without notifying them of the search and seizure. Facebook challenged the warrants on behalf of its customers, in a case formally known as In Re 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc. Lower courts ruled that the social media company did not have the legal standing to challenge search warrants on behalf of its users. Facebook is appealing this decision to the New York Court of Appeals. 

In conjunction with O’Melveny & Myers LLP, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals on behalf of Facebook, alongside co-amici the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now, and the Technology Freedom Institute. In a previous amicus brief, the Brennan Center urged the Court to hear the case and correct a lower court ruling that weakened privacy rights and opened the door to future large-scale seizures of personal data.
The Brennan Center’s brief with the Court of Appeals emphasizes three main points: (1) user data stored with internet service providers like Facebook requires vigorous Fourth Amendment protections; (2) the Fourth Amendment’s “particularity requirement” takes on special importance in the digital context; and (3) copying of electronic data is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Brennan Center believes that upholding these principles is essential to privacy in the digital age. Records hosted by third-party communications providers, such as Facebook, contain vast amounts of personal information and are equally deserving of constitutional protections.
The brief makes it clear that weakening Fourth Amendment protections over digital data will have serious ramifications for New Yorkers’ privacy rights. The Brennan Center is urging the Court of Appeals to extend constitutional safeguards to online data, prohibit overbroad collection and retention of private information, and allow Facebook challenge to the bulk warrants.

Download the brief here [PDF] 

In Re 381 Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc. (In Support of Motion for Leave)




In Re 381 Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc. (Amicus Brief).