Facebook fights U.S. govt. gag order on the grounds of repressing freedom of speech

This case has the hallmarks of turning into something big. Definitely worth following.

As per available court documents, Facebook Inc has challenged a gag order from a U.S. court that prevents it from disclosing 3 government search warrants that it says pose a threat to the freedom of speech.

According to a filing in a Washington, D.C., appeals court, Facebook has taken the stand of wanting to notify the 3 users of the existence of the search warrants and thereby give them an opportunity to object to them.

“We believe there are important First Amendment concerns with this case, including the government’s refusal to let us notify three people of broad requests for their account information in connection with public events,” said Facebook in a statement.

Facebook is banking on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees rights including that of the freedom of speech.

William Miller, a spokesman for U.S. prosecutors, declined to comment.

As per an undated court document, Facebook decided to challenge the gag order on the grounds of freedom of speech as well as because the events underlying the government’s investigation were already known to the public.

However, the precise nature of the government’s investigation is yet to be known.

One document in the case said the timing of proceedings coincides with charges against people who protested President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January.

More than 200 people were arrested in Washington the day Donald Trump was sworn in as the country’s president.

Privacy advocates and companies argue that court issued gag orders rely on outdated laws. Most of the time they are applied to bar the customers from getting notified about the government’s requests for access to their private online data.

“The government can only insulate its actions from public scrutiny in this way in the rarest circumstances, which likely do not apply here,” said Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for digital rights.

In this case, Facebook is being supported in court from several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation eight tech companies such as Microsoft and Apple Inc.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court in Washington for local matters, is scheduled to hear the case in September.


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