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Facebook User Data Sought by New York D.A. in Disability-Fraud Probe

By | June 27, 2014

Facebook Inc. was ordered by a judge last year to turn over account information of 381 users who were investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney in New York for cheating to obtain disability benefits.

Facebook, the world’s most popular social-networking site, this month asked a New York appellate court to overrule the judge, who had ordered the company to produce the information issuing the largest set of search warrants the company said it had ever received.

“The Fourth Amendment does not permit the government to seize, examine, and keep indefinitely the private messages, photographs, videos, and other communications of nearly 400 people, the vast majority of whom will never know that the government has obtained and continues to possess their personal information,” Facebook said in its June 20 filing.

Facebook follows Twitter Inc. in contesting how much information social media sites can be required to hand over to the government in criminal investigations. Twitter two years ago was ordered to provide posts by an Occupy Wall Street protester that had also been sought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

In the Facebook case, disability fraud charges were brought against 62 of the users whose information the D.A. sought, according to a statement Thursday from Chris Sonderby, the company’s deputy general counsel. That meant no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data the government sought without telling them, according to Sonderby.

Documents Unsealed

The government asked this week that files in the case be unsealed, after Facebook filed documents in the appeal, the company said in a posting on its website. Facebook said it would keep fighting to get the data back.

Facebook has been criticized over its privacy policies and in 2011 agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit claiming it deceived users by promising to keep their information private while allowing it to be shared and made public.

In the Manhattan case, the government said the information was required because the Facebook postings showed people who claimed they were disabled in reality weren’t.

“The defendants in this case repeatedly lied to the government about their mental, physical, and social capabilities,” Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for the D.A. said. “Their Facebook accounts told a different story.”

The case involved as many as 1,000 people who defrauded the government of more than $400 million, according to Vollero.

Vance in January announced the indictment of 106 people, including New York Police Department retirees, who were alleged to have lied about their psychiatric conditions to receive disability benefits. Many of the defendants had Facebook pages, according the D.A.’s announcement in January.

The case is In re 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook Inc., 30207-13, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department.

With assistance from Tiffany Kary in New York and Sarah Frier in San Francisco.

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Topics Fraud New York

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