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US govt halts bid to silence Facebook over covert user probe

US govt halts bid to silence Facebook over covert user probe
US federal prosecutors have retreated from a high-profile court battle with Facebook which threatened to impinge on social media users’ First Amendment rights.

“The parties to this appeal, Facebook, Inc. and the United States of  America, jointly move to dismiss the instant appeal as moot,” the court documents read. “On September 13, 2017, the United States moved to vacate the nondisclosure orders (NDOs) that are the subject of the instant appeal.”

Earlier this year, prosecutors submitted warrants to Facebook for private information on three users, while also imposing a gag order on the social network from informing the individuals about the investigation.

Facebook lost the initial court battle but has ostensibly won on appeal. The public hearing in the DC appeals court that was due to take place Thursday was called off after federal prosecutors retracted the non-disclosure order (NDO) requirement.

This is not a concession to the legal arguments raised by Facebook, and a number of digital rights groups, throughout the months-long case, however, as the case simply "progressed ... to the point where the [NDOs] are no longer needed."

Government lawyers asked the DC Appeals court to dismiss the case and the “motion to vacate was granted by the Superior Court on the afternoon of September 13.”

"Now that Facebook is free to notify these three users that their accounts are subject to a search warrant, we hope the users will contact us or other lawyers to challenge the government's attempt to conduct a fishing expedition through their Facebook accounts," Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia said, as cited by Washington Post.

"We've won the battle but the war is not over," a lawyer for the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told BuzzFeed News.