A New York state appeals court has told Facebook Inc. that it could not challenge the search warrants that New York prosecutors used to get information from its site on hundreds of users suspected of Social Security fraud.
This will make it nearly impossible for New Yorkers to keep their digital lives private.
Facebook was told that only the 381 individual defendants could challenge the warrants after prosecutors have gathered the evidence. The warrants were for users’ photos, private messages, and other account information.
The decision was a unanimous ruling by a Manhattan court. Facebook had the backing of other Internet companies, which also included Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. The Internet companies are concerned that this decision may set a precedent that could give prosecutors access to all sorts of digital information.
According to Reuters, Internet companies are pushing back broadly against U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ demands for customer data, in the wake of revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of wide-ranging online surveillance.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office served the warrants to Facebook in 2013, seeking information for dozens of people later indicted for Social Security fraud. This included police officers and firefighters who allegedly feigned illness in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The world’s biggest online social network turned the records over to prosecutors last year after a state judge threw out its claim that the warrants violated users’ Fourth Amendment rights, but it also went ahead with an appeal.
To challenge the warrants, the defendants would have to move to have the evidence they produced suppressed. A Facebook spokesman said the company disagreed with the decision, and was considering an appeal.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said prosecutors had secured nearly $25 million from people who were targets in the probe, Reuters wrote
“In many cases, evidence on their Facebook accounts directly contradicted the lies the defendants told to the Social Security Administration,” she said.
Prosecutors said Facebook pages showed public employees who claimed to be disabled riding jet skis, playing golf, and participating in martial arts events.
Mariko Hirose, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which also submitted a brief in support of Facebook, said the court “side-stepped” an important question by ruling on Facebook’s right to challenge the warrants and not on their legality.
With this decision, it will be hard to stop governments from looking into our private lives.