The legal fight stems from a 2013 request by the Manhattan district attorney, seeking data from the Facebook accounts of 381 people.
The legal fight stems from a 2013 request by the Manhattan district attorney, seeking data from the Facebook accounts of 381 people.

Facebook is appealing a New York court's ruling, which bars the social networking company from contesting its largest court data request for user information.

The legal saga stems from a July 2013 court order that allowed Manhattan's district attorney to seize the data from the Facebook accounts of 381 people.

In August 2013, Facebook contested the search warrants, calling the requests a violation of users' Fourth Amendment rights – though the courts eventually denied the motion. This month, the Manhattan DA office unsealed the case [PDF], lifting a gag order on Facebook so that it could notify those affected.

On Thursday, Chris Sonderby, Facebook's deputy general counsel, took to the company's website to update the public on the status of the legal fight.

According to Sonderby, the New York court demanded that Facebook turn over “nearly all data” from the accounts of 381 users, including their photos and private messages.

“This unprecedented request is by far the largest we've ever received—by a magnitude of more than ten—and we have argued that it was unconstitutional from the start,” Sonderby wrote. “Of the 381 people whose accounts were the subject of these warrants, 62 were later charged in a disability fraud case. This means that no charges will be brought against more than 300 people whose data was sought by the government without prior notice to the people affected. The government also obtained gag orders that prohibited us from discussing this case and notifying any of the affected people until now,” he said.

Last Friday, Facebook filed an appellate brief to continue its protest of the “sweeping warrants,” as well as to force the government's hand in returning the account data.

“We feel strongly that there is more work to do, and we will continue our legal fight to retrieve data that has been seized and retained by the government,” Sonderby told Facebook users.

The news of Facebook's appeals process comes just days after the Supreme Court made a major ruling, which introduced heightened protections for citizen's mobile data during police investigations.   

On Wednesday, the high court decided that police may no longer search the contents of suspects' cell phones without a warrant. The ruling came as a unanimous decision on the Riley v. California case, stemming from the 2009 arrest of a San Diego man, David Riley, who was convicted of attempted murder after police searched his smartphone.