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  • Dean Smith

Facebook and Other Social Media Sites Clash with Judge and Prosecutors in NY Privacy Case

According to Jennifer Peltz of Insurance Journal, New York prosecutors have issued just under 400 search warrants to Facebook to pull data including postings, friend lists, photos, and private messages as part of a disabilities benefit fraud investigation geared toward police and fire retirees. The case went public this past June, as Facebook has never received this overwhelming number of search warrants all at once.

Facebook is fighting back, and lawyers for other social media sites such as Foursquare, Kickstarter, Meetup, and Tumblr are allies. Facebook also has support from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Richard Holwell, attorney representing the additional four tech companies joining alliances with Facebook, says, “With the burgeoning tech industry in New York, the need to protect the privacy of users has never been greater.”

Although some of the users that have been targeted have not yet been charged and may never see that day, prosecutors see it differently. Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, says, “Prosecutors have a right and a responsibility to collect evidence in criminal cases, wherever that information is stored.”

Out of the 381 warrants approved by a Manhattan judge in July of 2013, “some 134 people have been charged so far, more than half have pleaded guilty, and prosecutors have said more could be implicated,” according to Insurance Journal. The judge was provided with 93 pages of reasoning and details for all accounts targeted in the investigation.

The retirees were allegedly coached into claiming they were “too psychologically devastated to work. Instead, they led robust lives – some flew helicopters, traveled overseas, did martial arts, went fishing – and sometimes aired the alleged proof of their active lives on Facebook,” according to prosecutors.

Facebook is appealing the court order, even though they have already provided the information, as they feel that the prosecutors are reaching for a case. Insurance Journal says, “Facebook has said prosecutors cast too wide a net. Their campaign amounted to the online equivalent of searching ‘an entire neighborhood of nearly 400 homes.’”

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