This weekend The Houston Chronicle reported Facebook did not turn over information requested by local authorities in response to death threats. People have been criticizing social media companies for turning over data to government entities. This time Facebook demanded a court order and now people are upset. It shows how it is a difficult situation for online companies and sometimes they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
According to the article, a Facebook message said a user was “Going to kill everyone in Splendora on July 13th.” Local officials asked Facebook for information, but the site told them to come back with a court order. According to Facebook, the government officials never did.
A Facebook spokesperson is quoted as saying:
We promptly review and respond to all emergency requests. In this case, we reviewed the matter and asked to police to send us legal process or a court order for the requested information. The police have yet to send us any formal request.
According to Facebook, on their Facebook and Law Enforcement page:
We take the privacy of your information very seriously. If Facebook receives an official request for account records, we first establish the legitimacy of the request. When responding, we apply strict legal and privacy requirements. . . .
We work with law enforcement to help people on Facebook stay safe. This sometimes means providing information to law enforcement officials that will help them respond to emergencies, including those that involve the immediate risk of harm, suicide prevention and the recovery of missing children. We may also supply law enforcement with information to help prevent or respond to fraud and other illegal activity, as well as violations of the Facebook Terms.
This appears to be a Not In My Backyard situation online. We all want Internet privacy, but when we perceive the threat is against our community, our principles get challenged.
I don’t believe the demand for a court order was out of line. I am sure the law enforcement officials would have preferred just to be handed the information. I stand to be corrected by those more familiar with criminal law procedure, but getting an appropriate order from a judge should not have been too onerous. Although Facebook did not apparently turn over the information right away, I suspect this is not over and the investigation will continue.
A suspect has been taken into custody according to KHOU-TV11 after some unspecified cooperation from Facebook. A 13-year-old girl is surely regretting her actions.