Department of Justice demands Facebook information from ‘anti-administration activists’
WASHINGTON — Trump administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.
The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”
One of those users, Emmelia Talarico, operated the disruptj20 page where Inauguration Day protests were organized and discussed; the page was visited by an estimated 6,000 users whose identities the government would have access to if Facebook hands over the information sought in the search warrants. In court filings, Talarico says if her account information was given to the government, officials would have access to her “personal passwords, security questions and answers, and credit card information,” plus “the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page.”
These warrants were first reported by LawNewz.com.
Facebook went through seven months of legal proceedings so it could make all three of the Facebook users aware that the government attorneys wanted their online details.
“We successfully fought in court to be able to notify the three people whose broad account information was requested by the government,” a Facebook spokesperson said Friday. “We are grateful to the companies and civil society organizations that supported us in arguing for people’s ability to learn about and challenge overly broad search warrants.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the three Facebook users, filed a motion to quash the warrants Thursday.
“What is particularly chilling about these warrants is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,” said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman.
Facebook was initially served the warrants in February 2017 along with a gag order which barred the social media company from alerting the three users that the government was seeking their private information, Michelman said. However, Michelman says that government attorneys dropped the gag order in mid-September and agreed that Facebook could expose the existence of these warrants, which has prompted the latest court filings. Michelman, however, says all court filings associated with the search warrant, and any response from Facebook, remain under seal.
The Justice Department is not commenting on these search warrants, but government attorneys have issued a similar search warrant to the web provider DreamHost seeking wide-ranging information about visitors to the website disruptj20.org, which provided a forum for anti-Trump protestors. In that case, DOJ modified its initial search warrant seeking millions of IP address for the visitors who merely clicked on the disruptj20.org website. But DC Superior Court Judge Robert Morin largely granted prosecutors’ request to collect a vast set of records from the company, which will include emails of the users who signed up for an account associated with the website, and membership lists.
In addition to the account of Talarico and her disruptj20 page, the search warrant also seeks all information about the personal accounts of Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour. Carrefour is a self-described political activist and pushed back against the search warrant in court filings, saying that his Facebook account “contains a significant amount of private material concerning my personal life.” Carrefour denied that he was involved in any of the riots in Washington, DC, on Inauguration Day, but acknowledged that he has “participated in or helped to organize dozens of demonstrations and events of various types in service of political causes.”