Other social media firms back Facebook in privacy court battle

Other tech firms and civil liberties groups back fight over police warrant seeking data

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:16pm

Facebook's battle with US prosecutors over nearly 400 search warrants for users' postings and other data is drawing support from other social media companies and civil libertarians.

Lawyers for Foursquare, Kickstarter, Meetup, and Tumblr said on Monday they were seeking to join the clash on Facebook's side. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union also said they were backing Facebook.

They see the warrant, seeking data including friend lists, photos, and private messages, many of them from users who have yet to be charged and may never be, as a troubling message for digital-age privacy. Facebook has said it had never received so many search warrants.

"With the burgeoning tech industry in New York, the need to protect the privacy of users has never been greater," said Richard Holwell, a former judge who is now in private practice and representing the four technology companies, all New York-based.

A judge has said the search warrants were justified. So do Manhattan prosecutors, who sought the data for a sweeping disabilities-benefit fraud investigation. In all, 134 people have been charged so far. More than half have pleaded guilty, and prosecutors have said more could be implicated.

"Prosecutors have a right and a responsibility to collect evidence in criminal cases, wherever that information is stored," said Joan Vollero, an official at the Manhattan district attorney's office.

The company has turned over the information but is appealing against the court order that required it to do so.

The case involves police and fire department retirees, allegedly instructed to claim they were too psychologically devastated to work. Instead, they led robust lives, and sometimes aired the alleged proof of their active lives on Facebook, prosecutors say.