DC Superior Court reins in DOJ's Facebook snooping

Court limits DOJ warrant for Facebook data on Trump protesters

Court limits DOJ warrant for Facebook data on Trump protesters

The warrant centers around a Facebook accounts of two D.C. -based protesters and a Facebook page for DisruptJ20, an organization created by group of activists who were attempting to build "the framework needed for mass protests to shut down the inauguration of Donald Trump and planning widespread direct actions to make that happen".

The fight over the warrants first became public after Facebook went to the D.C. Court of Appeals to protest a judges order that prevented the company from alerting its users to the search. More than 200 people were arrested and are facing felony rioting charges connected to the protests that injured police and damaged property in an area of downtown Washington.

The ruling is the latest development in a legal battle over the governments request to search three Facebook accounts, including that of a political group that helped plan the January 20 demonstrations.

The warrants, which the court found overbroad, requested all information tied to the accounts of the two activists for a period of more than 90 days, including but not limited to their private messages, friend lists, passwords and potentially credit card information. Under Morin's order, information about people who communicated with the individual and group page accountholders will be redacted, and the government will have to get the court's permission to see that information.

The Department of Justice initially demanded the disclosure of all files associated with DisruptJ20.org, the contents of email accounts for those associated with the site, contact and billing information the person who registered the site and the IP addresses of visitors to the site.

That doesn't mean the DOJ can never get this information - they'll just have to give the court a "search protocol" that will, if approved, let the department peruse the DisruptJ20 page.

The court also rejected the ACLU's argument that the court appoint what is known as a "special master" to review the data from Facebook before turning it over to the government.

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"The risk for disclosure of private political speech and association go innocent persons to the government can not be ignored and therefore additional protections are necessary", Mr Morin wrote, adding that "the Warrants in their execution may intrude upon the lawful and otherwise innocuous online expression of innocent users". The judge said he was trying to balance individual rights to private online expression with the governments ability to prosecute criminals.

Chief Judge Robert Morin, who also oversaw the DreamHost case, issued an order that said the government "does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost's website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity".

"The court agreed to impose safeguards to protect political activity and third-party communications from government snooping, but was not equally careful to protect our clients' private and personal communications", Scott Michelman, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement.

Morin wrote that the government established probable cause to access information about the two individual accountholders - Legba Carrefour and Lacy MacAuley - and if any personal information was "intermingled" with potential evidence, that was the effect of their decision to store data with Facebook, a third-party company.

Michelman added that the targeted activists were obviously concerned about the government acquiring - without probable cause - details about their medical histories or "traumatic events in their lives" from private Facebook messages.

The office of the USA attorney for D.C. had no comment on the ruling.

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