Facebook Loses Appeal on 9/11 Disability Warrants

ALBANY, N.Y. – In a case driven by 9/11 first responders whose Facebook activity betrayed massive Social Security fraud, New York’s highest court ruled Tuesday against the social-media giant’s power to challenge warrants.

Facebook had already been forced to comply with the warrants after a previous court defeat, but its appeal, as the majority opinion explains, “undoubtedly implicates novel and important substantive issues regarding the constitutional rights of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.”

The court ruled against Facebook 5-1, saying state criminal procedures do not authorize its appeal.

“To hold otherwise would be to impermissibly and judicially create a right to appeal in a criminal matter that has not been authorized by our legislature,” Judge Leslie Stein wrote for the majority.

Judge Rowan Wilson countered in a lengthy dissent that the Stored Communications Act permits Facebook’s appeal. He said that Facebook’s role in delivering its clients private information establishes its standing.

“Even if those users could realistically seek relief for their own injuries through pretrial suppression hearings, Facebook will not be a party to those actions and the hypothetical resolution of their claims would not address or remedy Facebook’s injuries,” Wilson wrote. “The majority does not suggest an alternative means for the company to vindicate its right to be free of unusually voluminous or unduly burdensome requests.”

The case arose from 381 search warrants that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. obtained in 2013 while investigating a multimillion Social Security fraud perpetrated by police, firefighters and others who had been first responders when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001.

The warrants sought Facebook content including photos, videos and public messages based on probable cause that they would presumably undermine  the account holders’ disability claims.

Google, Twitter and the New York Civil Liberties Union are among the tech giants and privacy advocates that filed amicus briefs in support of the case.

The rulings came about two months after the New York Court of Appeals heard oral argument.

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