Facebook has been monitoring users' private messages and informing the Justice Department of people who have questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, the New York Post reported.
The social media giant also has alerted the department of users expressing anti-government or anti-authority sentiments during the past 19 months, Post columnist Miranda Devine, citing DOJ sources, said Thursday.
"It was done outside the legal process and without probable cause," a Post source said. "Facebook provides the FBI with private conversations which are protected by the First Amendment without any subpoena."
The Facebook users whose private messages were red-flagged were all "conservative right-wing individuals," a source told the Post.
"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,” the source said.
The story said that Facebook red-flagged supposedly subversive private messages and transmitted them in redacted form to the FBI's domestic terrorism operational unit without a subpoena.
The private messages have been farmed out as "leads" to FBI field offices, which then have requested subpoenas from district U.S attorney’s offices to officially obtain the conversations they’ve already seen.
"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," a source said.
However, after FBI agents — who sometimes used covert surveillance techniques — investigated targeted Facebook users, nothing criminal or violent was found.
"It was a waste of our time," said a Post source familiar with subpoena requests lodged following the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.
The FBI, in a Wednesday statement to the Post, neither confirmed nor denied allegations about its joint operation with Facebook, which is designated as "unclassified/law enforcement sensitive."
The newspaper said Facebook's parent company Meta offered two different statements in denying the allegations.
"These claims are false because they reflect a misunderstanding of how our systems protect people from harm and how we engage with law enforcement," Meta spokesperson Erica Sackin said.
"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."
Little more than an hour later in an "unpromoted" follow-up statement, Sackin altered her language to say the claims are "wrong," not "false."
"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," Sackin, who previously worked for Planned Parenthood and "Obama for America," told the Post.
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