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Lawmaker calls for preservation of riot evidence as apps removed, users banned

When a group of pro-Trump supporters attacked the Capitol this week, many of them used their phones to take images and videos to share on social media sites. Now, several technology companies have decided to remove apps or ban users from their platforms to prevent the spread of violence.

Following the decision by Twitter to permanently suspend the account of President Trump “due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” many of his followers searched for alternative apps. Google chose to remove right-wing social media app Parler from the Android Play Store, saying to Ars Technica that it made the decision due to the app hosting “egregious content like posts that incite violence.”

Since then, the Parler app has also been removed from the Apple App Store. In addition, the app will soon be cut off from Amazon’s web hosting service, essentially kicking it off the internet. In an email sent to a Parler exec obtained by Buzzfeed, a member of Amazon Web Services said this was due to “a steady increase in this violent content on your website, all of which violates our terms.”

With these user bans and app removals in place, one issue being raised is whether tech companies will preserve evidence about the event that could be used in prosecutions. Senator Mark Warner [D-VA] wrote to tech companies including Parler and Twitter as well as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Signal, and Telegram, asking that they preserve content from this week’s attack on the capitol.

The Senator pointed out that many of those who were in attendance documented their actions, “later posting them to their social media accounts or sharing them via text or mobile messaging platforms to celebrate their disdain for our democratic process.”

“The U.S. Capitol is now a crime scene,” Senator Warner wrote. “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the events of that day, and trying to piece together what happened and the perpetrators involved. The prospect of litigation on behalf of the victims of the mayhem also is highly likely. Messaging data to and from your subscribers that may have participated in, or assisted, those engaged in this insurrection — and associated subscriber information — are critical evidence in helping to bring these rioters to justice.”

This is a request, not a legal requirement, so it remains to be seen how the companies will respond. Some of these apps, such as Signal and Telegram, have end-to-end encryption which makes messages sent through them largely private. But others, like Twitter, host publicly accessible information that could be preserved and used in investigations into the events at the Capitol.

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