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Posted: September 29, 2017

Feds demand Facebook handover private info of 'anti-administration political activists'

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

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By Theresa Seiger, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

WASHINGTON —

The Department of Justice is demanding that Facebook provide the government with the private information of three users, including the identities of an estimated 6,000 people who “liked” a page set up in protest of President Donald Trump.

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In search warrants filed in court, government officials sought the disclosure of a wide swath of personal information from the Facebook accounts of two political activists and a page set up to coordinate protests of Trump on Inauguration Day. Among the information sought was “all contact and personal identifying information,” including passwords, security questions and answers, credit card numbers and private messages.

The warrants were issued as part of the investigation into protests in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day. More than 200 people were arrested on a variety of charges, many connected to allegations of rioting.

The warrants cover interactions and information from Nov. 1, 2016, to Feb. 9. They are being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Opening up the entire contents of a personal Facebook page for review by the government is a gross invasion of privacy,” ACLU-DC senior staff attorney Scott Michelman said in a news release.

“The primary purpose of the Fourth Amendment was to prevent this type of exploratory rummaging through a person’s private information. Moreover, when law enforcement officers can comb through records concerning political organizing in opposition to the very administration for which those officers work, the result is the chilling of First Amendment-protected political activity.”

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In a motion filed Thursday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, ACLU attorneys urged the court to rescind the warrants or narrow them in scope to protect the privacy of those involved.

Activist Lacy Macauley, whose Facebook account is among the three targeted by authorities, said in a declaration filed in court that officials would get access to "intimate messages exchanged with a romantic partner, detailed discussions of my own and other individuals' experiences with domestic violence and death threats referring to specific traumatic incidents from my life” if the warrant is allowed to remain as-is.

“My Facebook page contains the most private aspects of my life — and also a frightening amount of information on the people in my life,” MacAuley said Thursday in a statement. “There are intimate details of my love life, family, and things the federal government just doesn’t need to see. Jeff Sessions doesn’t need to see my family photos.”

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Activist Emmelia Talarico, moderator of the Facebook page "Resist This," formerly known as "disruptJ20," said that federal investigators are asking for information that includes the list of people who were invited and indicated that they would be attending a January protest outside then Vice President Elect Mike Pence’s home. The “Queer Dance Party at Mike Pence’s House” drew a few hundred protesters in opposition to Pence’s stance in LGTBQ rights.

Officials would also get a list of all Facebook users who “liked” the “disruptJ20” page before Feb. 9, Talarico said, estimating that the government would get about 6,000 names.

>> Related: LGBTQ activists hold 'Queer Dance Party' outside Mike Pence's house

Talarico called the warrant a “direct attack on D.C.’s grassroots organizing community” in a statement released Thursday.

“This overreaching warrant would strike a devastating blow to organizers working every day to make this city a better place,” she said.

The warrants first became known to the public after Facebook challenged a gag order that prevented the company from notifying its users about requests for private account information from authorities. The government later withdrew the gag order.

It is the second time officials have sought what the ACLU characterized as “unlawful dragnet searches of the internet and social media” in connection to the Inauguration Day protests.

Earlier this year, web hosting service Dreamhost announced it was challenging a warrant from the DOJ that demanded the IP addresses of the 1.3 million people who visited the DisruptJ20.org website. A judge sided with Dreamhost and narrowed the scope of the government’s request, eliminating the requirement that the hosting service provide officials with IP addresses.


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