Facebook challenges US gag order, claiming free speech

The social network wants to let three people know the government's investigating them

Facebook is fighting a gag order that is preventing it from talking about three government search warrants.

The social media giant contends the warrants pose a threat to freedom of speech and consequently impact the First Amendment.

It wants to let three users know about the search warrants which seek to know about their communications and information, Buzzfeed News reported. The company also wants to give the users an opportunity to object to the warrants.

Facebook said in a statement to Reuters: "We believe there are important First Amendment concerns with this case, including the government's refusal to let us notify three people of broad requests for their account information in connection with public events".

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Buzzfeed reported that one of the recent filings suggests that the warrant is linked to the mass arrests in Washington DC during President Donald Trump's inauguration. In a notice obtained by the publication, it also states that the warrants relate to an investigation into "potential felony charges".

Facebook said it decided to challenge the order as free speech was at stake, and because the events surrounding the government's investigation were generally known to the public already, saying that "neither the government's investigation nor its interest in Facebook user information was secret".

The social network is apparently receiving support from organisations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union. It is also receiving support from eight technology companies: Microsoft, Google, Snap, Apple, Twitter, Dropbox, Yelp and Avvo.

Buzzfeed obtained a brief in which lawyers for the EFF and other digital rights groups argued: "The underlying warrants are apparently calculated to invade the right of Facebook's users to speak and associate anonymously on a matter of public interest, and the First Amendment requires that the users be accorded notice and the opportunity to contest the warrants".

A Facebook spokesperson told the publication that it was "grateful to the companies and civil society organisations that are supporting us in arguing for people's constitutional rights to learn about and challenge these search warrants".

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