U.S. Government Efforts to Data Mine Accounts of Anti-Trump Protesters—And Apple and Facebook’s Shameful Complicity

February 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On January 20, thousands of people in Washington, DC, protested the inauguration of the fascist Trump/Pence regime and more than 200 people were arrested, including journalists, legal observers, and medics. They have been hit with felony riot charges—which means they could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Mark Goldstone, who has defended protesters in Washington, DC, for more than 30 years and is now representing many of those arrested, says he has “never seen a felony riot charge in Washington, D.C., let alone more than 200 of them.... We’re in a dangerous new world.”

These cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia—which is under the Department of Justice, now headed by the fascist, white supremacist hand-picked by Trump, Jeff Sessions. And now there is evidence that the government is saying Apple and Facebook must hand over the personal information of those who were arrested, reported by AlterNet. (See “Law Enforcement Using Facebook and Apple to Data-Mine Accounts of Trump Protest Arrestees,” Sarah Lazare, Alternet, February 22, 2017.)

Goldstone told AlterNet that “several” of his clients have been contacted by Facebook and Apple and informed that their personal information has been requested by law enforcement. He says, “It’s an outrageous overreach by the government to try to data-mine personal property that wasn’t even seized at the demonstration. This will be fought vigorously.”

Evan Greer, the campaign director for Fight for the Future, told AlterNet, “This is part of an increasing trend of law enforcement attempting to turn the internet, instead of technology for freedom, into technology for control. This trend started long before Trump and seems to be escalating and growing in scale now.”

According to Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google has also been sent requests for information by law enforcement. It is not clear how Google is responding. But AlterNet has dug up proof that Apple and Facebook are shamefully complying with the government’s data mining request. This evidence includes:

» A “customer notice” email sent on February 14 by Apple to one of the defendants which said, “On 2017-01-27, Apple Inc. (‘Apple’) received a legal request from United States Attorney’s Office requesting information regarding your Apple account,” and that “Apple will be producing the requested data in a timely manner as required by the legal process.” The person who got the email told AlterNet, “I wasn’t surprised by it, but it was also very unsettling and made me feel very vulnerable and exposed, that some federal grunt could be looking through old texts, personal stuff and selfies. This is exposing and gross and creepy.”

» A statement sent from Facebook on February 3 to another defendant which said, “We have received legal process from law enforcement seeking information about your Facebook account. If we do not receive a copy of documentation that you have filed in court challenging this legal process within ten (10) days, we will respond to the requesting agency with information about the requested Facebook account. We may need to respond to this legal request within less than ten (10) days if we have a reasonable belief that we are legally required to do so.”

It is not clear what kind of information law enforcement is requesting. Nor is it clear under what legal justification they are doing this. But NONE of this is good; in fact it is a fascistic Big Brother move that signals increased repression, surveillance, and persecution against dissent under the Trump/Pence regime.

Michael Price, counsel for the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told AlterNet, “One of my biggest concerns is that police will attempt to use electronic surveillance to get information about the people who were at the protest, in order to compile a list of the people who were present. Is that information going to be mined and used for other purposes? What is the government doing with the data? Are they going to store it? Are they going to send it to an intelligence analyst?”

Lacambra said the investigation raises disturbing questions. “Why is the Department of Justice trying to intrude into the digital lives of people exercising their rights to protest?” she asked. “Is this to intimidate, silence or threaten people for exercising their constitutional rights? When you arrest 230 people, some of whom are medics and legal observers, and try to systematically get to the content of their digital life, that is troubling.”

When people were arrested the police confiscated people’s phones and then used them to try and get information. One journalist who was arrested sent AlterNet a screenshot of his Google account, which shows that while he was detained and his phone was in police custody, there was activity on his account—even though the phone is password protected. This kind of thing—where the pigs were immediately trying to mine data from phones—appears to have also happened to others who were arrested.

These moves to pry into the private data on people’s phones, and to demand the complicity of companies like Apple and Facebook, are part of the whole fascistic program of the Trump/Pence regime that the people MUST RESIST and DRIVE OUT. And companies and institutions that are shamefully complicit with these fascistic moves must be roundly denounced.


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