Inauguration-protest arrests lead to Facebook data prosecution
Move fast and break democracy.
By Violet Blue
Feb 10 2017
If you attend a protest in Washington, D.C., nowadays, better plan on leaving your cellphone at home. That is, unless you want police to confiscate it, mine it for incriminating information and then gather even more data from their BFF — Facebook.
At least one person arrested during protests on Inauguration Day got an email from Facebook’s Law Enforcement Response Team alerting them that investigators wanted access to their data. Another received a Facebook data subpoena.
The email was basically a countdown to when Facebook inevitably handed that data over to D.C. police. That is, unless the respondent figured out how to file an objection within a 10-day window.
When over 230 people were arrested in D.C. during protests against Donald Trump last month, many of those rounded up were not part of the protests. Cops swept up medics, legal observers, and six journalists from Voactiv, RT America and others.
All of their phones were confiscated and retained.
Everyone arrested now faces felony charges and up to 10 years in prison. In the Bay Area, where we love a good protest, it’s very rare that arrested protesters get prosecuted. So it’s odd to think that protesters would have their social media scrutinized after an arrest. Though, like in most cities across America, it’s extremely common for investigators to search the social media of suspects in other crimes if they believe that the suspect posted something related (like photos of a beating). SFPD even has an officer devoted to following social media — most heavily, Snapchatand Instagram, as those are apparently where you find the best crime stuff.
Oakland Police and supporting agencies like California Highway Patrol have been very transparent about monitoring Twitter to determine protest movement and plans. And we’ve been pretty vocal about pushing back. It only makes sense that we’d resist any form of surveillance, seeing that we’re ground zero around here for ethically challenged startups that invade our privacy. Fighting the surveillance state has become part of our DNA. But a wide-ranging Facebook subpoena for felony protest prosecution isn’t something we’ve seen the likes of.
The subpoena issued to Facebook (this one by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on January 27, 2017 and signed off on by a D.C. Metropolitan Police Detective) obtained by press this week is chilling. It targeted another inauguration arrestee, and requests subscriber information from Facebook that includes all names, all addresses (home, business, emails), phone records, session details (IP, ports, etc), device identification info, payment information, and more.
CityLab explained, “The redacted blocks on the second page shield columns of phone numbers, which are connected to other arrestees for whom the district attorney and police are seeking information.”