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The digital world is not only a land of ambiguity and confusion but also a legal nightmare, apparently. The U.S. le...
The digital world is not only a land of ambiguity and confusion but also a legal nightmare, apparently. The U.S. legal system has been making the news recently with several verdicts that will change law enforcement’s relationship to our online data. While in one instance the Supreme Court ruled to protect our personal information, as in the decision that will prevent law enforcement from searching phones without a warrant, in another case they ruled blatantly in the interest of private profit. Aereo, a company that provided storage for and access to aired TV shows, was forced to shut down, hindering the development of a burgeoning new culture industry.
The New York Times reports that Facebook and the Manhattan district attorney’s office collided over a demand on part of the government last year to be given access to the profiles of 381 Facebook users. Facebook claims that Manhattan prosecutors violated the constitutional right of its users by demanding complete data for these 381 people, including pages they had liked and visited. These 381 were suspects accused of committing fraud in order to obtain disability benefits.
To protect the investigation, the judge ordered Facebook not to inform the suspects, which in turn prevented the accused from fighting against the request themselves. The following statement was given by Melissa C. Jackson, New York State Supreme Court Justice: “Due to the fungible nature of digital information, the ability of a user to delete information instantly and other possible consequences of disclosure, the court ordered the search warrants sealed and Facebook not to disclose the search and seizure to its users.”
This month Facebook has asked the New York appellate court to overrule the judge's decision, which the company claims is the largest set of search warrants it had ever received. Facebook issued the following statement “The Fourth Amendment does not permit the government to seize, examine, and keep indefinitely the private messages, photographs, videos, and other communications of nearly 400 people, the vast majority of whom will never know that the government has obtained and continues to possess their personal information.“
Ironically, in the past Facebook was criticized for providing data to private companies about its users. It even settled a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission in which it was claimed that Facebook deceived its users by promising to keep their information private while allowing it to be shared and made public. Regarding the current case, the government announced that the information requested was necessary because the suspects' postings on Facebook showed people who claimed to be disabled, but in reality were not.