Last year New York City Law enforcement asked Facebook to turn over information about 381 accounts. The information included photos, messages and personal information. The targets of the request range from "high schoolers to grandparents, from all over New York and across the United States."
Collecting information from social networks is common behavior for law enforcement. What happened here was not quite ordinary, though. Facebook was prevented from informing any of the users that their information has been requested.
Unfortunately this type of broad fishing investigation is becoming more popular. In this particular case 62 of the people investigated were charged in a disability fraud case. Clearly the concept works. The problem however is that over 300 people had their information handed over to the police without being informed, seemingly for no reason.
Facebook has been fighting this practice on behalf of their users. They believe that the covert nature of this search violates the 4th Amendment. Fortunately for us they are not the only ones to feel this way. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed in support of Facebook.
Joining these organizations is a large collection of top Internet companies. Included in the list are Dropbox, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yelp. All of these companies have officially filed motions in support of Facebook.
They believe that Facebook should have the right to challenge these requests on behalf of their members. If they are not allowed to challenge them, they should at least have the right to inform their users of the requests. A lower court has already ruled against Facebook on this topic. These organizations are hoping that a higher court will feel differently.
Do you believe an Internet company has the right to challenge information requests on your behalf? Or should they just turn over information when they are asked? Let us know in the comments.