Feds asking Facebook for info on anti-Trump activists

The Justice Department even wants info on the 6,000 people who "liked" the DistruptJ20 Facebook page, search warrants show.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read
Protesters And Trump Supporters Gather In D.C. For Donald Trump Inauguration

Police motion protesters away from a limousine set aflame after President Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington on Jan. 20 2016.

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Turns out it's not just web hosting provider DreamHost that's fighting Justice Department search warrants on users linked to an anti-Trump site associated with inauguration protests. Facebook is in the same boat.

The Justice Department in February issued three warrants to search the Facebook accounts of people associated with violent protests of President Donald Trump 's inauguration. The warrants -- which name DisruptJ20 activists and the anti-Trump organization's Facebook page -- ask for information including the activists' friends, associates and the roughly 6,000 people who just "liked" the page, according to Lawnewz.com, which first reported the story Thursday.

The ACLU, which has posted the warrants here, quickly went to work on behalf of the activists named in the warrants. It went to court Thursday to block the enforcement of the warrants arguing that they are "overbroad under the Fourth Amendment," which protects personal privacy.

"Opening up the entire contents of a personal Facebook page for review by the government is a gross invasion of privacy," said Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney with ACLU-DC. "Moreover, when law enforcement officers can comb through records concerning political organizing in opposition to the very administration for which those officers work, the result is the chilling of First Amendment-protected political activity."

The Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook in a statement acknowledged the warrants and a gag order preventing the company from telling the activists they were being targeted. "We successfully fought in court to be able to notify the three people whose broad account information was requested by the government," the statement read. "We are grateful to the companies and civil society organizations that supported us in arguing for people's ability to learn about and challenge overly broad search warrants."

DreamHost last month revealed it was fighting a warrant for records from DisruptJ20.org related to who may have planned or participated in the Inauguration Day protests in Washington. That search warrant sought the IP addresses, emails and physical addresses of the website owners, as well as similar information about the site's users.

The DOJ has since narrowed its request of DreamHost, dropping demand for the IP addresses. The company's attorneys applauded the Justice Department's modifications, but said the legal fight isn't over yet, also citing First and Fourth Amendment concerns.

Approximately 230 protesters were arrested, most on felony rioting charges, on Inauguration Day after some protesters threw objects at people and businesses, destroying storefronts and damaging vehicles. The arrests took place in a four-block stretch of downtown Washington around the time of Trump's swearing-in ceremony.

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