A Washington, D.C., court Monday ordered the Justice Department to narrow search warrants issued to obtain information from Facebook on organizations potentially involved in Inauguration Day riots.
The ruling prevents the department from reviewing data that identifies third-party users not involved in the organization of protests that erupted into riots, but who may have had interactions with DisruptJ20's page where protests were organized.
Facebook will hand over the information requested by investigators in redacted form to shield the identification of innocent account holders that visited the site, now named “Resist This.” Identifying data could be revealed at a later date if investigators prove to the court that it is relevant to the probe.
"Given the potential breadth, the warrants in their execution may intrude upon the lawful and otherwise innocuous online expression of innocent users," District of Columbia Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin ruled. "Therefore, the court deems it appropriate in this case to implement procedural safeguards to preserve the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment freedoms at stake and ensure that only data containing potential incriminating evidence is disclosed to the government."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) applauded the ruling, but ACLU Attorney Scott Michelman said the court didn't go far enough to be "equally careful to protect our clients' private and personal communications." Nearly 200 activists face criminal charges in the investigation.
"Our clients, who have not been charged with any crime, expect that when they send private Facebook messages about, for instance, their medical history or traumatic events in their lives, those messages will remain private unless the government shows probable cause to search those particular messages, which it has not,” Michelman said in a statement.