Facebook received warrants from the Justice Department requesting the private account information of three “anti-administration activists” for an investigation into Inauguration Day protests that turned violent. Facebook has not said whether it will comply, but legal analysts said that compliance would potentially enable government investigators to gain access to thousands more Facebook users who took part in the demonstrations.
The ACLU filed a court motion on the three activists’ behalf Thursday to quash the warrants. Scott Michelman, ACLU attorney, said that the government’s action is a major privacy invasion that seems intended to intimidate political dissent.
“What is particularly chilling about these warrants is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,” Michelman said.
One of the activists, Emmelia Talarico, operated the webpage disruptj20, on which users organized and discussed protest plans in the runup to Inauguration Day. She said that the data the government investigators want includes her personal passwords, security questions and answers, credit card information, and the private lists of attendees and invitees to political events that posted on the page.
The government data-collection might not stop with her, she added. She said that around 6,000 users visited the page, and government investigators who access her data would be able to spy on theirs, as well.
Justice lawyers first submitted the warrants in February 2017 and included with them a gag order barring Facebook from telling the three activists that the government was after their personal information, according to Michelman. He said that the Justice lawyers dropped the gag order in mid-September, but that any court filings associated with the warrant and any response from Facebook all remain sealed.