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Feds Demand Facebook Share Information on Anti-Trump Protesters

The Justice Department is demanding that Facebook turn over information from three accounts that could provide access to the personal details of thousands of activists who expressed interest in anti-Trump rallies.

The department obtained search warrants targeting three Facebook accounts that were used to organize Inauguration Day protests against Donald Trump, the ACLU said late Thursday. But accessing those accounts would provide information on thousands of other users who "liked" an anti-Trump Facebook page, the group explained.

The ACLU’s Washington, D.C., office said in a statement it would fight the enforcement of the search warrants.

"Opening up the entire contents of a personal Facebook page for review by the government is a gross invasion of privacy," said Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney at ACLU. "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."

The warrants were issued as part of an ongoing case by the Justice Department against people who allegedly broke laws while protesting Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration in Washington. Prosecutors have said the website, DisruptJ20.org, was used to organize "a violent riot."

Image: A person holds up a sign in protest before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump
A person holds up a sign in protest before the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump at Freedom Plaza in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017. Joshua Lott / AFP - Getty Images file

One search warrant was issued for the DisruptJ20 Facebook page, which has since been renamed Resist This, requiring the group’s moderator, Emmelia Talarico, to hand over "nonpublic lists of people who planned to attend political organizing events and even the names of people who simply liked, followed, reacted to, commented o or otherwise engaged with the content on the Facebook page," the ACLU said in a motion filed Thursday in U.S. Superior Court in Washington.

That could include nearly 6,000 Facebook users who "liked" the page from Nov. 1, 2016, to Feb. 9, 2017.

Two other warrants obtained by the Justice Department would require Facebook to hand over "all information from the personal Facebook profiles of local DisruptJ20 activists' Lacy MacAuley and Legba Carrefour from Nov. 1, 2016, through Feb. 9, 2017.

The warrants demand "all private messages, friend lists, status updates, comments, photos, video and other private information solely intended for the users’ Facebook friends and family, even if they have nothing to do with Inauguration Day," the ACLU said.

A Facebook spokesperson wouldn't comment on whether the company would comply with the warrants but said the company had "successfully fought in court to be able to notify the three people whose broad account information was requested by the government."