New York's top court rejects Facebook search warrant challenge

In a big blow to Facebook, the NY court on Tuesday ordered that the social media giant had no right to ask a court to quash search warrants thereby ordering Facebook to hand over information from hundreds of accounts in a disability fraud case.

The Court of Appeals voted 5-1, saying it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the appeal related to warrants obtained by the Manhattan District Attorney's office, Reuters reports.

Facebook had high-profile support in resisting the warrants, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

The ruling is a setback for Facebook and other social media companies hoping to expand internet privacy protections for its users.

Prosecutors had obtained the warrants in July 2013, ordering Facebook to turn over the account information of users suspected of criminal fraud.

Writing for the appeals court, Judge Leslie Stein said it was up to targets of the warrants, not third parties such as Facebook, to challenge the warrants' validity.

The case is In re: 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc, New York State Court of Appeals, No. 16. The Appellate Division order was upheld Tuesday by the Court of Appeals. Facebook challenged the warrants, which it said were overbroad, and it was not allowed to inform the affected users. In a statement, a spokesperson said the company was disappointed by the ruling and is continuing to evaluate its legal options.

A key issue before the appeals court was whether the order served on Facebook for customer information should be treated as a warrant, largely associated with criminal procedures and with search and seizures by law enforcement, or as a subpoena, which requires the service provider to provide the information.

  • Larry Hoffman