Flash Digest: News in Brief

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New York Court of Appeals Rules Against Facebook Challenge to Warrants

            Since 2013, Facebook has been fighting broad search warrants issued by the Manhattan District Attorney's office pursuant to the Federal Stored Communications Act, requesting private messages, friend lists, and other non-public content from 381 Facebook accounts. The warrants relate to a disability fraud scheme involving more than 100 former New York City policemen and firefighters. The New York Court of Appeals ruled this week that Facebook could not appeal earlier orders, refusing to quash the warrants based on Facebook’s lack of standing to challenge the warrants. Both the lower court and the New York Court of Appeals found Facebook’s argument that SCA warrants should be considered similar to subpoenas and therefore challengeable unpersuasive. By dismissing Facebook’s appeal on procedural grounds, the Court did not consider the merits of the constitutional arguments made against the search warrants. In dissent, Judge Wilson pointed out the troubling breadth of the warrants, as Facebook had to provide any private messages between the named individuals and others, and even content posted or shared by some users who may not even had known the 381 individuals.


Canadian Court Holds Reporter Must Hand Over Communications with Alleged Terrorist to Law Enforcement

            The Ontario Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling requiring Vice Media to turn over communications with an alleged terrorist to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) this week in R. v. Vice Media Canada Inc., 2017 ONCA 231 (Can.) hosted by DocumentCloud. In 2014, Vice Media interviewed an alleged Canadian terrorist via Skype. In 2015, the RCMP filed six charges against the ISIS militant in absentia and obtained a production order requiring Vice Media to provide "any notes and all records of communications" between reporters and the terrorist. A lower court ruled that Vice Media should turn over these records. The Court of Appeals acknowledged the tension between journalistic freedom and the need to protect society from serious criminal threats, but nonetheless held that the balance weighed in favor of law enforcement in this case. Some are worried that this decision will set a dangerous precedent for law enforcement to further encroach on press protections.


Connecticut Lawmakers Considering Weaponized Drones for Police Force

            A Connecticut bill that would ban the use of weaponized drones but exempt police use of such drones was approved by the state legislature’s joint Judiciary Committee and was sent to the House of Representatives this week. How Connecticut law enforcement will use such drones is yet to be seen, but civil rights organizations are voicing concerns over the potential for abuse. Currently, North Dakota is the only state that allows police to use weaponized drones, though it forbids the use of lethal weapons. TechDirt reports that the Connecticut bill in its current state has no similar limitations. While there are reasons law enforcement should upgrade its technology, some note that there are other useful law enforcement technologies that are less dangerous than those that would allow the police to fire and