ACLU Backs Facebook Against District Attorney

     MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Civil Liberties Union threw its support behind Facebook's legal challenge to the Manhattan District Attorney's forcing the social media site to turn over the contents of 381 user accounts.
     The ACLU and the NYCLU filed an amicus brief on Aug. 7 in New York County Supreme Court.
     "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," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "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 got warrants for the accounts in July 2013 as part of an investigation of Social Security fraud. It ordered Facebook to turn over every piece of communications from those accounts, including messages, conversations, photos and comments on users' walls.
     The DA then won an unlimited gag order banning Facebook from telling those users about it. The office moved to have the gag order lifted after Facebook appealed in August 2013.
     New York Supreme Court Justice Melissa C. Jackson denied Facebook's appeal on Sept 17, 2013.
     In the amicus brief, the NYCLU claims that the warrant and gag order were unconstitutional, and that the Fourth Amendment prevents the DA from making such a sweeping seizure of electronic communications. It also argued that the gag order violated the "prior restraint" clause of the First Amendment.
     "The warrants issued in this case lacked any meaningful limiting criteria and failed utterly to satisfy the particularity requirement under the federal Constitution as well as the analogous provision of the New York Constitution," according to the amicus brief.
     "Facebook is right to stand up for its users' rights," ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo said. "When the government seeks sensitive information about us, it should use narrow means and be as transparent as possible. If we have learned anything from Edward Snowden's disclosures, it is that we must be vigilant against secret and sweeping intrusions into our privacy."
     Last summer, Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, leaked details about the federal government's dragnet spying program.