A group of tech giants and civil liberties groups voiced their support on Friday for Facebook as it continues its legal battle to return private data collected in a set of bulk search warrants to its users and prevent future searches.
Facebook disclosed in June that a New York court forced the company to turn over personal data for almost 400 users in a disability fraud case. Although only 62 of the people were actually indicted in the case, the government retained private data for more than 300 people it did not charge. Facebook first turned over the data months ago, but the company could not disclose it to its customers because the court enforced a gag order.
In June Facebook filed an appellate brief in June to drive the court to return the data — which included photos and private messages — back to its users. The court responded by lifting the gag order on the case, allowing Facebook to at least inform the Facebook users that their data had been swept up in the bulk collection.
On Friday Dropbox, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Meetup, Tumblr, New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU filed amicus briefs supporting Facebook.
In the first brief, Dropbox, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yelp called the gag order that accompanied the court’s warrant unconstitutional, accusing the court of violating the First Amendment.
“Communications providers like Google and Facebook need to be able to challenge warrants for user information, and should be able to alert users when their information has been requested,” a Google spokesperson said.
A Dropbox spokesperson similarly reinforced Facebook’s stance.
“We stand firmly against bulk government data requests for user information, especially when they come with gag orders,” the spokesperson said. “People have a right to know if the government is seeking their information. We’ll continue to push in court to make it clear that bulk data collection isn’t allowed and that online services may always fight on behalf of their users.”
This isn’t the first time the companies have come out against bulk collection of private information or to protect First Amendment rights of their users. In the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures, tech companies were some of the loudest voices calling for transparency, fighting for the right to release reports about the amount of information they disclose to the government. In January Yelp fought a Virginia ruling that would require the website to release identifying information about users to businesses.
The NYCLU and the ACLU stated the Snowden leaks highlight the need for tech companies to do due diligence when they receive broad government warrants.
“The sensitive information we share on social media, like where we’re going and who we’re seeing, our political affiliations, our hobbies and our private conversations, are owed the highest level of protection,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Government entities shouldn’t be conducting broad fishing expeditions into our personal and social conversations with our family and friends with no regard to our privacy.”
Concerns about government overreach without a doubt affects tech companies’ business. Beyond just protecting Constitutional rights, these companies are taking a stand to protect their financial interests.