back to article NY court slaps down Facebook's attempt to keep accounts secret from search warrants

Facebook has lost more skin in its battle to avoid handing over user account details to a US court. In a 5‑1 decision documented by Judge Leslie Stein, the New York State Court of Appeals today said it lacks the jurisdiction to overturn the warrants, and that challenging warrants is none of Facebook’s business – that’s up to …

  1. Sanctimonious Prick
    Big Brother

    Sperm... Donors

    "people swept up in the warrants included high school students accused of nothing worse than knowing people involved in the investigation."

    1984!

    Will the sperm donors of those who know someone under investigation also be targeted?

    (was gonna put a /tic next, but changed my mind)

    1. Ole Juul

      swept up in the warrants

      Metadata's a bitch.

  2. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Does not compute...

    Either the reporter is confused (not just El Reg, but Reuters, too), or the Court is. I definitely am.

    On the one hand, the warrants demand that Facebook does not "tell users the warrants existed".

    On the other hand, "challenging warrants is none of Facebook’s business – that’s up to the targets of the warrants."

    Huh?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does not compute...

      I enjoyed a movie about a story from Kafka, but don't enjoy it IRL

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Does not compute...

      Well it's easy. They either already know because i) the existence of the investigation is public knowledge and they feel that it covers their own behaviour, or ii) they get arrested at some point.

      It'd be a pretty silly legal system if suspects had to be publicly named in advance of their arrest and given a chance to hop it out of the country...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Does not compute...

        "It'd be a pretty silly legal system if suspects had to be publicly named in advance of their arrest and given a chance to hop it out of the country..."

        Ah, you mean the old "arrest by appointment" the wealthy and famous seem to enjoy here in the UK

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Does not compute...

          "Ah, you mean the old "arrest by appointment" the wealthy and famous seem to enjoy here in the UK"

          Well, they're busy people (the police that is). May as well schedule it!?!?

      2. GingerOne

        Re: Does not compute...

        "Well it's easy. They either already know because i) the existence of the investigation is public knowledge and they feel that it covers their own behaviour, or ii) they get arrested at some point.

        It'd be a pretty silly legal system if suspects had to be publicly named in advance of their arrest and given a chance to hop it out of the country..."

        So if the Police had a warrant to enter your house and read post you have received from a friend of a friend (because they suspect that friend of a friend of committing a crime - you are as clean as a whistle) you would be happy for them to do it while you were out and without your knowledge.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Does not compute...

          @GingerOne,

          "So if the Police had a warrant to enter your house and read post you have received from a friend of a friend (because they suspect that friend of a friend of committing a crime - you are as clean as a whistle) you would be happy for them to do it while you were out and without your knowledge."

          They wouldn't have to. If I knew that a friend of a friend had committed a criminal offence, I'd phone up the cops and tell them.

          Wouldn't you?

          Or would you seek to protect the scumbag and prevent justice being administered? Obstructing justice is also a criminal offence, at least it is so in the UK.

          If the cops want to read someone's mail, they'd get a warrant and take a look at it in the post office. Much easier. The old arts for extracting and replacing letters in envelopes still work.

          1. eldakka Silver badge

            Re: Does not compute...

            @bazza

            They wouldn't have to. If I knew that a friend of a friend had committed a criminal offence, I'd phone up the cops and tell them.

            Wouldn't you?

            Or would you seek to protect the scumbag and prevent justice being administered? Obstructing justice is also a criminal offence, at least it is so in the UK.

            Depending on the circumstances, absolutely I would not tell the cops.

            Speeding? Nope.

            Driving through a red light at 3am after slowing down and giving way first? Nope.

            Lieing to insurance company? Nope.

            Providing false information to obtain a rental lease? Nope.

            Beating up a known child molester that the police refuse to arrest? Nope.

            Selling drugs (to adults)? Nope.

            I don't report people for breaking the law. I report people for doing something I think is wrong that is also a breach of the law.

            Just because something is illegal doesn't mean it's wrong.

            Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right.

    3. Draco
      FAIL

      Re: Does not compute...

      I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that.

      By definition, a warrant is some sort of authorization. In this case, it is judicial authorization to invade the privacy of a citizen in connection with a presumed criminal offense for which there is no other means of securing evidence.

      Had the court simply said "You have no legal authorization to challenge a legally administered warrant." and left it at that, then there wouldn't be a problem. However, adding that the only party legally entitled to challenge the warrant is not permitted to be advised of the warrant is a non sequitur.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Does not compute...

        FYI - depending on the rules of that particular court, you may be able to OBJECT to the discovery request that prompted the warrant, but you still have to comply with orders from the judge. So challenging the warrant is kinda limited in a way, but you could still object to it [then be denied, appeal, get denied again, etc.]

        IANAL but I've had a small amount of experience dealing with bogus discovery requests

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Does not compute...

        "However, adding that the only party legally entitled to challenge the warrant is not permitted to be advised of the warrant is a non sequitur."

        It's fairly normal for defendents' lawyers to challenge the admissibility of evidence during a case, where the admissibility is in doubt. Anything collected under a warrant that is later challenged and held to be invalid would not be admissible, and therefore would play no role in the case. If it was the only evidence the prosecution has, case dismissed, possible claims for wrongful arrest, wrongful prosecution, etc.

        Judges don't just let any old tripe be presented as evidence to their juries, at least not here in the UK. Pretty sure American judges make such rulings on admissibiliy all the time.

        It's not perfect - invalid warrants may have led to the violation of someone's rights - but there are (or jolly well should be) consequences for police / prosecutors / judges involved, a probable acquital for the accused, and likely a dose of compensation too.

    4. AdamWill

      Re: Does not compute...

      Oh, no-one's confused. That's exactly how it's supposed to work.

  3. Winkypop Silver badge
    Trollface

    Just goes to show

    Facebook is just not warranted.

  4. MNGrrrl
    Devil

    *uckerBerg does it again

    It's funny how they'll fight any attempt by the government (any government) to get into its systems, and routinely engages in civil rights abuses from privacy to racism, sexism, all the -isms really -- in fact, that's basically what 'the social network' is... a way to turn '-isms' into profits. They do all of this, and yet people insist they can't live without it and the industry showers them with accolades and hails them as a 'success story'.

    Really. You know, we thought the internet would bring knowledge and democracy to the world, and instead it puked up cat videos, porn, trolls, and fake news. Those of us who helped launch this mess look on it rather like many parents of adult children... with great disappointment. We love it anyway because of its potential... not as much how it turned out. Now tell me honestly... how could anyone create something as soul-crushingly inhumane and toxic as Facebook and not want to put a pillow over its face while it sleeps and end it for the good of all mankind? To have created that... I'd feel not unlike someone who raised a kid who later became a serial terrorist who murder-rapes his way through life.

    At least the internet was borne out of good intentions and still has the potential to be all of those things. Facebook is like what would happen if robo-Hitler had angry hate sex with a warehouse filled with discarded phone books and AOL CDs. It can't help but be made of pure evil.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: *uckerBerg does it again

      There'd be a lot less of all that if it wasn't free. Free = effective anonymity (except in the most extreme circumstances), and some people behave pretty badly if they can get away with it.

      If the services were paid for then user identity is something easily discovered, and that might cause users to behave better; the consequences of their nastiness would be more easily and efficiently dished out.

    2. davemcwish

      Films that predict the future

      Have you not seen Idiocracy ?

      1. W4YBO

        Re: Films that predict the future

        "Have you not seen Idiocracy ?"

        It's disheartening to note that film gives me hope for the future in comparison to what I see around here some days.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: *uckerBerg does it again

      @ MNGrrrl

      Whilst I agree with your views on Facebook and wouldn't want an account on it the issue is broader.

      I, in the UK, might do business with a company which uses, unbeknown to me, some US corporation as a service provider. Unless US law provides much better protection for user privacy then my data, along with others, is apt to be swept up by an over-braod warrant, as the dissenting judge pointed out.

      The Privacy Figleaf withers a little more each time such a judgement comes up.

  5. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Who goes to jail?

    If the court holds FB in contempt, who goes to jail? That's something of a problem with corporations. They are a "person in law" but not a tangible person and the C-level execs of large corps are immune from any personal responsibility as far as I have ever seen. Wouldn't it be entertaining to see a 4am raid on Zuck's mansion to apprehend the miscreant and haul him off to the calobozo? I don't think that it would take any more than 50 fully outfitted SWAT members and only a half dozen Humvee's with just one or two Bradley fighting vehicles. In and out, no sweat. Would an armed Predator be overkill? Nawwwww.

    1. Velv
      Boffin

      Re: Who goes to jail?

      I'm assuming its the same in the US as the UK, but it is the Board of Directors who are the accountable people in the event the company is found guilty.

  6. lukewarmdog
    Megaphone

    Really torn by judgements like this. On the one hand we're told they're civil servants faking illness or a known drug pusher living abroad or it's a priest caught with child porn on his laptop and they just want to find more on his phone. All terrible people and legitimate targets of the courts.

    And then on the other hand the police want to access their Facebook account. Why? What is that going to prove that will stand up in court? Why can't these people be caught via other police actions?

    FBI agent: "Says here you posted you were going to the post office. Says right here, at 10:30 am you posted to someone called Ted123 that you were going to cash your disability check. Is that true John.Calzone69?"

    Defendant: "No your honour, that wasn't me, must have been my son"

    FBI agent: "Oh and was it also your son who posted these cat pictures to your Facebook?"

    Defendant: "Yes, your honour, or my wife"

    FBI agent: "You really expect the court to believe you allow other people to update your profile?"

    Defendant: "Yes. I have no arms so I can't update it myself very easily"

    I mean seriously.. what the hell is on your Facebook surely to God (if one exists, obviously) can not be used in a court of law to prove you cheated on your disability claim.

    FBI: "says here you told John.Calzone69 that you were going for a walk round the block but your disability claim says you can't walk!"

    Defendant: "My wife pushed me in a wheelchair, you already have the video and photographic evidence to prove this from the van you have parked over the road from my house"

    Maybe I'm missing something, maybe all people do on Facebook is post incriminating evidence that is acceptable in a court of law but I don't really see it myself.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Abuse of disability cases have a tendency to be based on issues with very little hard evidence, like back pain or emotional trauma. While these can certainly be major disabling issues, what should the investigator's do when they receive complaints based on photos of someone on vacation that they posted to Facebook, for example? Keep in mind these may not be posted by the person on disability.

      Person X reports photos posted by person Y who was on vacation with person Z, showing Z not looking disabled. Y and Z promptly delete their photos. Getting a warrant for person Y and Z's Facebook accounts seems like a reasonable thing to do - and perhaps person X as well, to see how reliable a witness he is (does he Photoshop a lot with Y), or anyone else on the vacation.

      An alternative - a warrant for person's Z's home and everything on all their electronic devices seems rather intrusive by comparison.

      Even then, this is just evidence gathering, approved by a judge. Whether they later argue that the person had taken a lot of pain killers and thus was able to do some limited movement not in a wheelchair, or there is a problem with doing cartwheels down the beach making disabling back pains unlikely is more an issue for a trial.

  7. boltar Silver badge

    A warrant is a warrant

    Obey it. Its up to elected representatives to change the law if its unjust but when large corporations start trying to ignore laws they don't like because it might affect their business (lets not pretend fuckerberg is rooting for the little guy here) then where does the trickle down effect stop? Perhaps we should all ignore laws we don't agree with? In fact lets just dump the judicial system altogether and just act they way we think is moral, you know, like is happening in syria, sudan and numerous other places around the world right now.

    1. SolidSquid

      Re: A warrant is a warrant

      In fairness the reason they were in court was to challenge the warrants as invalid, not because they were ignoring them. The ability to challenge a warrant and have it reviewed by the court is as much part of the legal system as the warrants themselves

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: A warrant is a warrant

        "The ability to challenge a warrant and have it reviewed by the court is as much part of the legal system as the warrants themselves"

        Challenging is fine unless its done maliciously just to tie the courts up in beaurocracy for years. Meanwhile the company can happily wipe whatever data it wishes at its leisure.

        1. SolidSquid

          Re: A warrant is a warrant

          As I understood it, the company is required to retain the data until this is resolved, otherwise it could be considered contempt of court amongst other things. I agree they shouldn't be able to abuse the process, but until it hits the supreme court they have a right to keep pushing it.

          Also, as mentioned in the article, while the case is still ongoing Facebook has already handed over at least some of the data under threat of contempt of court, so this seems to be related more to future cases rather than the warrants that started the case

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re:Its up to elected representatives to change the law if its unjust

    there are many respected statesmen who have argued that it's incumbent on citizens to disobey bad laws - Thomas Jefferson springs to mind.

    That's also what jury nullification is for.

    1. boltar Silver badge

      Re: re:Its up to elected representatives to change the law if its unjust

      "there are many respected statesmen who have argued that it's incumbent on citizens to disobey bad laws - Thomas Jefferson springs to mind."

      And who gets to decide which laws are "bad" and should be disobeyed? The paranoid with the semi automatic in the woods? The multi nation corp that can bribe government officials? Religions or cults whose doctrines differ from that of the law? Which of those would you be happy with?

      What you said is a nice soundbite, but in reality it just leads to anarchy.

  9. morenewsfromnowhere

    “Among the targets were retired police officers and firefighters suspected of feigning illness after the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.”

    Well, that's good and well - and I hear reasons like that a lot.

    "“Among the targets were forcibly retired police officers who resigned to protest corruption, violence and racism."

    That I never read - but it also happens, and it puts an entirely different complexion on the whole matter.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Imagine...

    Zuckerberg, who is pretty much infinitely rich, decides to put in place a mechanism to shut down his website...

    :)

    1. Sanctimonious Prick
      Devil

      Re: Imagine...

      That'd be awesome.

      Evolution may have a chance to get back on track [dreaming].

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not the intended consequences...

    But exactly how the new snoop laws will get used. Catching T's? ... Nah!!!

    “Among the targets were retired police officers and firefighters suspected of feigning illness after the Sept 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.” - The one dissenting judge, Rowan Wilson, expressed concern that people swept up in the warrants included high school students accused of nothing worse than knowing people involved in the investigation."

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So what if the guilty parties see the news

    ...And delete any incriminating data before the next ruling... Will FB hand over a blank memory key, or will FB include the deleted posts etc? The Max Schrems EU case highlighted how FB keeps everything forever regardless of what the privacy policy says.

  14. Velv
    Black Helicopters

    Comes back to the question of who owns the data on Facebook's servers?

    If the data is owned by the individuals and it is up to the individuals to challenge the warrant then the warrant must be served on the individuals and not on Facebook.

    If the data is owned by Facebook then Facebook has the right to challenge the warrant.

    The judges appear to have sided with the former. This could get interesting if used for future precedents...

  15. Trey Pattillo

    Re: *uckerBerg does it again

    *uckerBerg picked the wrong business model which entrapped his users.

    When a company offers you something for free, it is very possible you are their product.

    This was also solved several years ago when a federal judge said that when you put your stuff on somebody else equipment then you no longer own that stuff.

    This applies to all of the social non-sense.

    Of course if you are leasing a web server [ie your-name-or-business.com] then you own your stuff as the provider has ownership of only the equipment.

    ---

    Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have

    nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free

    speech because you have nothing to say. --Edward Snowden

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021