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Facebook Fails to Protect Data of Users in District Attorney Investigation

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The District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is fighting Facebook over the demand for the contents of Facebook accounts, according to The New York Times. Confidential legal documents were unsealed on Wednesday in which Facebook argues that prosecutors in Manhattan violated the constitutional rights of its users last summer when they demanded full account info of 381 people.

Facebook fought the demands in court, with a New York judge ruling the company could not stand-up to the search warrants because it is an online data repository, not the subject of the investigation. Facebook was also banned from warning the users of the investigation.

The case is currently being appealed. According to prosecutors, information taken from the accounts indicted 130 police officers, civil servants and firefighters back in January and February. They were indicted for defrauding the Social Security system using fake disability claims.

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The photos showed the defendants riding personal watercraft, deep-sea fishing, doing karate and doing other vigorous activities while supposedly disabled. The photos were in support of other evidence that helped prosecutors in their investigation, which lasted three years. Additional evidence included wiretapped conversations.

Joan Vollero, a Manhattan district attorney spokeswoman, told The New York Times the following: “This was a massive scheme involving as many as 1,000 people who defrauded the federal government of more than $400 million in benefits. The defendants in this case repeatedly lied to the government about their mental, physical and social capabilities. Their Facebook accounts told a different story. A judge found there was probable cause to execute search warrants, and two courts have already found Facebook’s claims without merit.”

The deputy general counsel for Facebook, Chris Sonderby, told the New York Times: “It appeared to us from the outset that there would be a large number of people who were never charged in this case. The district attorney’s response was that those people would have their day in court. There are more than 300 people that will never have that chance.”

The attorney’s office has been able to identify 600 defendants so far and a 93-page affidavit has been submitted to Supreme Court Justice Melissa C. Jackson that provides evidence for each individual warrant.

Justice Jackson wrote the following when denying Facebook’s efforts to defeat the warrants: “In the course of a long-term criminal investigation, the relevance or irrelevance of items seized within the scope of a search warrant may be unclear and require further investigatory steps,” she wrote.

Facebook disagreed with the judge in its appeal, writing the following to the appeals court: “The government’s bulk warrants, which demand ‘all’ communications and information in 24 broad categories from the 381 targeted accounts, are the digital equivalent of seizing everything in someone’s home. Except here, it is not a single home but an entire neighborhood of nearly 400 homes. The vast scope of the government’s search and seizure here would be unthinkable in the physical world.”

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