After more than 200 people were arrested while protesting during President Trump’s inauguration and faced charges for felony rioting, the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanded in three search warrants that Facebook hand over the personal information and names of over 6,000 users who "liked" an anti-Trump Facebook page connected to the inauguration protests. Now, the ACLU is challenging DOJ's demands for Facebook to give up its users' information by filing a suit with D.C. Superior Court on Thursday, saying that the warrants violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The first DOJ warrant demands for the IP addresses of nearly 1.3 million visitors who visited DisruptJ20.com, a site where Inauguration Day protests were organized. The second warrant asks for specific information, including contact networks, on three users affiliated with the inauguration riots, according to Lawnewz. As a result of the third warrant, more than 6,000 people who "liked" DisruptJ20.com could also have their identities, personal passwords, security questions, and credit card information shared with the government, according to court documents obtained by CNN.
The ACLU statement read:
Permitting government officials to comb through 90 days’ worth of personal messages concerning political activity and associations— some of which are aimed at protesting the policies of the very administration on whose behalf the government officials would be acting in searching Intervenors’ records — is an unjustified invasion of privacy hearkening back to the “general warrants” that the Fourth Amendment was enacted specifically to prohibit.
The warrant would give the DOJ 90 days to go through the DisruptJ20 website and have access to users who liked, interacted with the page, or planned to attend events. The ACLU is representing Emmelia Talarico, one of the three users who runs DisruptJ20 Facebook page, which has since been renamed "Resist This." Talarico has said that the government could have access to "the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page," according to court filings.
"Opening up the entire contents of a personal Facebook page for review by the government is a gross invasion of privacy," said Scott Michelman, an ACLU attorney. "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."
Back in February, the DOJ served Facebook with a gag order that prevented the social media giant from alerting the three users that the government was trying to get their personal information. Talarico and the two other users, Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour had no idea that the DOJ was seeking access to the information on their accounts between Nov. 1, 2016 and Feb. 9, 2017. The gag order was eventually dropped in September, which led to the latest search warrant on the 6,000 users.
Carrefour has denied to CNN that he was involved in the Inauguration Day protests, but conceded that he, "participated in or helped to organize dozens of demonstrations and events of various types in service of political causes."
Facebook has responded to the DOJ gag order:
"We successfully fought in court to be able to notify the three people whose broad account information was requested by the government," a Facebook spokesperson told CNN. "We are grateful to the companies and civil society organizations that supported us in arguing for people's ability to learn about and challenge overly broad search warrants."
In August, the DOJ succeeded in getting a judge to order web-hosting provider Dreamhost to hand over some information on DisruptJ20.org's anti-Trump users. The court stipulated that they would oversee how the data would be searched, according to The Verge.