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Search warrant for Facebook account flawed but not enough to overturn a sex-trafficking conviction

Defendants Blake and Moore were convicted of child sex trafficking two underaged girls. The case arose when FBI investigations discovered that ads for prostitution services were posted on the classified website Backpage. Moore would take phone calls from potential customers who were responding to the ads and Blake would drive the girls to their appointments and provide muscle. The money was split 50/50 between the prostitute and the Blake and Moore. The FBI learned that Backpage ads had been posted using email address which the FBI learned had belonged to Moore.

In the course of the investigation the FBI executed a seize and search warrant electronics in Blake and Moore’s townhouse however the FBI could not access the Apple Ipad tablet seized due to its security features. The FBI requested and received a district court order issued under the All Writs Act 28 U.S.C 1651(a) (the Bypass Order) requiring Apple Incl to assist the FBI in bypassing the iPad’s passcode lock and other security features.   The FBI also obtained a search warrant directing Microsoft which own \s Hotmails to turn over emails from Blake and Moore’s email accounts, specifying emails linked to the sex trafficking charges. Finally, the FBI applied for and received search warrants for Moore’s Facebook account requiring disclosure of every type of data that could be found on Facebook account including every private instant messaging.

The defendant’s appeal challenged the Bypass Order on the grounds that the order exceeded the authority granted by the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. sec. 1651(a). Though the court of appeals did not rule on whether they had standing to challenge the writ against Apple, the court found that the defendant’s challenge of the Bypass Order failed because it was necessary or appropriate to carry out the search warrant issued, the assistance sought was no specifically addressed by another statute, the bypass order was no inconsistent with Congress’ intent, Apple was not too far removed from the underlying controversy, and the burden the order imposed on Apple was not unreasonable.

Moore challenged the search warrants for Microsoft email and Facebook evidence on the grounds that the search warrants were flawed. First, she argued that the government lacked probable cause to search here Facebook account. Second, she claimed that the warrants were so broad that they violated the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement. The court rejected that argument as to the warrant to Microsoft for email, finding that it complied with the particularity requirement by turning over only those emails that had the potential to contain incriminating evidence.

The Facebook warrants were a different matter because they required the disclosure of virtually every kind of date that could be found in a social media. The court of appeals found the warrant was in violation of the Fourth Amendment particularity requirement. For example, the warrant could have limited the request to messages sent to or from persons suspected at that time of being prostitutes or customers and should have requested data only from the period of time during which Moore was suspected of taking part in the prostitution conspiracy.  However, the court found the Facebook warrant fell under the good faith exception. This exception to the rule excluding Fourth Amendment violations applied her because the warrant application was not so facially deficient that the FBI agents could not have reasonably believed them to be valid.