The New York Civil Liberties Union is throwing its support behind Facebook in a lawsuit the organization believes could have big implications for social media privacy in New York.
In 2013, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office obtained warrants from the NY County Supreme Court ordering Facebook to turn over contents of 381 user accounts as part of a Social Security fraud investigation. The warrants requested the users' private messages, chat histories, photos and other profile information. The DA's office also managed to get the court to issue a gag order that prohibited Facebook from notifying the users that their profiles were being searched. A month later, Facebook stood up for its users' rights and challenged the constitutionality of both the warrants and the gag order.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Melissa Jackson denied Facebook's motion to dismiss, calling the social network an "online repository of digital information" where user information is subject to search and seizure. Facebook appealed to the Appellate Division, First Department. Last Thursday, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a friend-of-the-court brief to oppose the search warrants. The NYCLU argued that the warrants violate the users' Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures and that the gag order was a prior restraint on speech in violation of the First Amendment. The question the court must wrestle with is whether our sensitive information on social media deserves the highest level of protection?