NY recovers $18 million using warrants for Facebook accounts

People are silhouetted as they pose with laptops in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Daniel Wiessner (Reuters) - New York prosecutors have secured more than $18 million in a series of fraud cases using warrants to access hundreds of Facebook accounts, a move the social medial firm says was unconstitutional and is still fighting. The information obtained from Facebook Inc also helped lead to 130 indictments of civil servants, including police officers and firefighters, for Social Security fraud, according to a court document filed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office in a state appeals court on Wednesday. More than 90 defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to pay more than $18 million in restitution, the brief said. The prosecutors said the numbers undermine Facebook's claim that the warrants, which applied to 381 users' photos, private messages and other account information, were too broad and violated the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches. Facebook has drawn support in its challenge to the warrants from other technology and civil liberties groups, including Google Inc, Microsoft Corp, Twitter Inc, and the American Civil Liberties Union. A five-judge panel will hear the case in December. Facebook complied with the warrants last year after a state judge approved them. A victory for Facebook would not directly impact the pending fraud cases, but could lead to judges throwing out evidence taken from the site in some cases. The district attorney in Wednesday's filing said Facebook does not have the legal standing to assert its users' constitutional rights on their behalf. Prosecutors also urged the court to reject Facebook's claim that all its customers have an expectation of privacy when using the site. "Some customers treat their accounts as 'digital homes,' and maintain some degree of privacy," the brief said. "Others treat their accounts more as digital billboards, broadcasting material to dozens or even hundreds of others, thus abandoning any claim of privacy." Attorneys for Facebook declined to comment. The case is In re search warrants directed to Facebook Inc, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, No. 30207-13. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Ted Botha and Lisa Shumaker)