Major technology companies and civil liberties groups have joined Facebook in a closed courtroom battle over secret government access to social media records, the Washington Post reports. Facebook is fighting a court order that prohibits it from letting users know when law enforcement investigators ask to search their political communications. Facebook contends that the ban tramples First Amendment protections of the company and individuals. Most of the details of the Washington, D.C., case are under wraps, but the timing of the investigation, and references in public court documents, suggest the search warrants relate to demonstrations during President Trump’s inauguration. More than 200 people were detained and many have been charged with felony rioting in the Jan. 20 protests that injured police and damaged property.
The Facebook battle in the D.C. Court of Appeals is similar to challenges throughout the U.S. from technology companies objecting to how the government seeks access to Internet data in emails or social media accounts during criminal investigations. The D.C. case has implications for the First Amendment rights of Facebook users and others who are politically active online. Prosecutors are trying to prevent Facebook from giving users a heads up about search warrants connected to an investigation into potential felony charges. The wording of the search warrants at the crux of the case seek “all contents of communications, identifying information and other records” and designate three accounts for a three-month period in each request. A D.C. Superior Court judge denied Facebook’s request to get rid of the gag order and directed the company to turn over the records covered by the search warrants to law enforcement. Facebook appealed.