Tech giants are backing Facebook’s attempt to protect user data

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Key technology companies including Google, Microsoft and Twitter on Friday filed in support of Facebook’s dispute with the New York County District Attorney’s office over the collection of user data in bulk under a gag order for a fraud investigation. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union also filed an amicus curiae brief Friday in support of the Facebook plea. Facebook said in June that a court in New York directed it to turn over to law enforcement virtually all records and communications for 381 accounts, including photos, private messages and other information. The social networking company was also prohibited from informing the targeted persons who included “high schoolers to grandparents, from all over New York and across the United States.”

Facebook’s getting some company in its fight with the New York district attorney’s officeover the protection of user data from government investigations, something that has quickly become a battle over constitutional rights. Today, a number of major tech companies including Dropbox, Foursquare, Google, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Meetup,Microsoft, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and Yelp, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU, filed amicus briefs in support of Facebook. In a trio of filings today, the groups collectively argue that bulk warrants like the one that required Facebook to hand over user data for 381 users over to the NYDA are problematic, especially when attached to so-called “gag orders” that keep companies from alerting users that they are under investigation. “Unless Facebook is able to assert its subscribers’ constitutional rights — and any of its own rights — the legality of the government’s actions with respect to those subscribers will escape review altogether. And had the government chosen to indict no one, no one would have been the wiser,” reads the opener of a filing from Google, Pinterest, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yelp. Adding to that, the New York Civil Liberties Union in its brief warned that the NYDA has since provided “no reasonable expectation” that the same thing won’t happen in the future. That’s especially troubling given the nature of the information that people are storing on the service with the intent of keeping it private, it added.

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