Google, Twitter, Microsoft and ACLU Stand Up For Facebook Against New York DA’s Office Over Privacy Appeal
Facebook has long been under fire for its seemingly lackluster care to user privacy, something that became a hot topic this past week as the company forced its mobile users to transition to its Messenger app in order to have messaging capabilities. Well, as hard as it might be to believe, there are some instances when the company does care about our privacy, enough to work towards protecting our data from overly aggressive law enforcement.
Last fall, Facebook was forced by the New York district attorney's office to hand over account profiles for 381 users - users that ranged from teenagers to grandparents. Requests for such information isn't uncommon, but a forced retrieval is something else entirely. Making matters worse, Facebook was placed under a gag order - it couldn't tell the public what was going on, and it certainly couldn't warn the affected users that their data was effectively breached by law enforcement.
Since then, Facebook has been fighting back, saying that private user data should have better protection against government investigation. Further, it argues that mass warrants like this is unacceptible, something emphasized by the fact that the company was put under a gag order. As a regular Joe, a gag order would be frustrating enough, but imagine being placed under a gag order while 381 of your service's users have their data handed over to law enforcement.
Fortunately, Facebook isn't alone in its battle. Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Dropbox, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Yelp, and the American Civil Liberties Union are a handful of companies that have all filed amicus briefs in support of the company. The fact that the government was able to snatch the private data of so many users on Facebook doesn't only affect Facebook, after all... this kind of thing could go down with any social network. This is a net-wide issue, plain and simple.
In its battle, Facebook aims to find out whether or not the seizure of this private data was in violation of the Fourth Ammendment, and also if the gag order violated the Stored Communications Act and the First Ammendment. Tying into all of this, it seeks to establish whether or not it has the legal right to defend against the warrants it receives on behalf of its users.
This is all a very messy situation, and it's not likely to settle anytime soon. Despite that, though, it's a great thing that some of the Web's biggest companies are jumping to Facebook's defense. Facebook quite obviously has the resources to fight this on its own, but having other major voices in on the action sure can't hurt.