In a column written by Miranda Devine on Wednesday for the New York Post, the Laptop from Hell journalist revealed that Facebook had been spying on and collecting messages from Americans who had questioned the results of the 2020 election.
According to sources from within the Department of Justice, who spoke with Devine on conditions of anonymity, Facebook had been spying on the private messages of American users and reporting them to the FBI if they had questioned the outcome of the election, or expressed anti-government or anti-authority sentiments.
In an operation in collaboration with the FBI, Facebook had red-flagged private messages in the last 19 months, then transmitted a redacted version of these messages to the domestic terrorism operational unit at the FBI headquarters, done without a subpoena.
“It was done outside the legal process and without probable cause,” one of the sources told Devine. “Facebook provides the FBI with private conversations which are protected by the First Amendment without any subpoena.”
According to Devine, those messages were then given to FBI field offices across the country in the form of “leads,” which led agents to request subpoenas from their partner US Attorney’s office to officially obtain the private conversations that they had already seen.
But when an investigation was launched into Facebook users behind the messages, many times nothing criminal or violent would turn up.
“It was a waste of our time,” one source familiar with the subpoena requests said.
Users targeted by Facebook through their private communications were all reportedly “conservative right-wing individuals.”
“They were gun-toting, red-blooded Americans [who were] angry after the election and shooting off their mouths and talking about staging protests. There was nothing criminal, nothing about violence or massacring or assassinating anyone.
“As soon as a subpoena was requested, within an hour, Facebook sent back gigabytes of data and photos. It was ready to go. They were just waiting for that legal process so they could send it.”
One source said that the “most egregious parts highlighted” in the redacted messages, leading to the comment being taken out of context.
“But when you read the full conversation in context [after issuing the subpoena] it didn’t sound as bad … There was no plan or orchestration to carry out any kind of violence.”
“They [Facebook and the FBI] were looking for conservative right-wing individuals. None were Antifa types.”
Facebook has denied these findings, with Erica Sackin, a spokesperson at Meta, the parent company of Facebook, sending two statements saying that the interactions with the FBI were to “protect people from harm.”
“These claims are false because they reflect a misunderstanding of how our systems protect people from harm and how we engage with law enforcement. We carefully scrutinize all government requests for user information to make sure they’re legally valid and narrowly tailored and we often push back. We respond to legal requests for information in accordance with applicable law and our terms and we provide notice to users whenever permitted,” Sackin’s first statement read.
Sackin sent another “updated” statement over an hour later, with language altered to say that the claims are “wrong,” not “false” as previously stated.
“These claims are just wrong. The suggestion we seek out peoples’ private messages for anti-government language or questions about the validity of past elections and then proactively supply those to the FBI is plainly inaccurate and there is zero evidence to support it,” said Sackin.
Communications Director Andy Stone echoed Sackin’s comments on Twitter, writing, “These claims are just wrong.”
“The suggestion we seek out peoples’ private messages for anti-government language or questions about the validity of past elections and then proactively supply those to the FBI is plainly inaccurate and there is zero evidence to support it,” Stone wrote, echoing Sackin’s statement.
Stone continued on to say, “The truth is we carefully scrutinize all government requests for user information to make sure the requests are legally valid and narrowly tailored – and we often push back, including in court.”
“We only respond to legal requests for information in accordance with applicable law and our terms and we provide notice to users when permitted by law,” he concluded.
The FBI neither confirmed nor denied the allegations regarding its joint operation with Facebook in a statement on Wednesday, with the statement focused more on foreign threats than domestic ones.
“The FBI maintains relationships with US private sector entities, including social media providers. The FBI has provided companies with foreign threat indicators to help them protect their platforms and customers from abuse by foreign malign influence actors. US companies have also referred information to the FBI with investigative value relating to foreign malign influence. The FBI works closely with interagency partners, as well as state and local partners, to ensure we’re sharing information as it becomes available. This can include threat information, actionable leads, or indicators. The FBI has also established relationships with a variety of social media and technology companies and maintains an ongoing dialogue to enable a quick exchange of threat information.”
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