By David Meyer
September 29, 2017

The Justice Department is trying to force Facebook to disclose information about thousands of people who “liked” a page opposing president Donald Trump.

The DoJ wants to access all the information from the profiles of three activists connected to the “DisruptJ20” protests on the day of Trump’s January inauguration. The protests turned violent in part and, with a couple hundred people having been charged over the Washington, D.C. riots, the authorities are going after online information relating to DisruptJ20.

One of the three being targeted by the DoJ, Emmelia Talarico, was an administrator and moderator for the DisruptJ20 Facebook page, since renamed “Resist This.” According to a legal filing by the D.C. branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the information being sought about that page would include personal details of thousands of other Facebook users who interacted with it.

The page was “liked” by an estimated 6,000 people before Feb. 9, when the DoJ secretly hit Facebook with search warrants. Although the page was public, the department is also after details of those who said they might attend events organized through the page, or who merely reacted to content shared from the page.

The ACLU is representing Talarico and the other two activists, Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour, in the case. It argues that the DoJ is after too much information about the three — their entire Facebook activities covering a 90-day period — and is trying to share this information too widely within the government.

“The primary purpose of the Fourth Amendment was to prevent this type of exploratory rummaging through a person’s private information,” said ACLU lawyer Scott Michelman. “Moreover, when law enforcement officers can comb through records concerning political organizing in opposition to the very administration for which those officers work, the result is the chilling of First Amendment-protected political activity.”

Last month, the website-hosting provider Dreamhost revealed that the DoJ was seeking information regarding the DisruptJ20.org website, which ran off its servers. Following considerable pushback, the DoJ dropped its attempt to extract information about more than a million people who visited the site, but it did succeed in getting a judge to order Dreamhost to hand over other site data.

However, the court also ordered strict oversight for how the Justice Department could comb through the data it received, and forbade it from sharing the information with other government agencies. The ACLU is after something similar in the DisruptJ20 Facebook case.

And if you’re wondering whether Facebook pushed back against the DoJ, it did, at least as far as challenging the gag order that went along with the February warrants. The department dropped that element of the case earlier this month, allowing Facebook to tell Talarico, Carrefour and MacAuley that they were being targeted.

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