Facebook reveals search warrant of hundreds of accounts

Social network was under a gag order until recently to disclose "by far the largest" search warrant request it's ever received.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read


Facebook revealed that since last summer it's been fighting a court order that required it to disclose social-media information involving hundreds of people.

"This unprecedented request is by far the largest we've ever received -- by a magnitude of more than ten -- and we have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start," Chris Sonderby, Facebook's deputy general counsel, wrote in a statement Thursday.

The situation raises concerns over privacy in the digital age, when much of a person's sensitive information is often available online and on mobile devices. This week, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected warrantless searches of cell phones, saying the practice went against the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The court added that modern cell phones are "not just another technological convenience."

Facebook said 381 people's accounts were subject to warrants out of an unspecified New York court, though only 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. The company said it was under a gag order, preventing it from discussing the case or notifying the people affected until recently.

Facebook, the largest social network in the world, asserted that the search was "overly broad" and allowed the government to keep the seized photos, private messages, and other information indefinitely. It has called for the government to return the data and claimed the search ignored the Fourth Amendment.

Facebook, as well as other tech companies like Google and Apple, discloses data on the number of search warrants, subpoenas, and emergency disclosures requests it receives from government bodies. Facebook said that from July to December 2013, it received 12,598 total requests from US law enforcement, requesting information from 18,715 users or accounts. In all, some data was produced from 81 percent of the requests, Facebook said.