Status Update: “Busted”–FBI Uses Social Networking

This really should come as no surprise: the Guardian reports that FBI agents have been going undercover on and other sites looking for criminals. And they’ve been finding them.

This doesn’t refer to persons promoting bogus FB apps designed to steal identities.

They are finding criminals who maintain profiles, sometimes public profiles, under their real names with photographs of their real faces:

Law enforcement agencies have long used internet chatrooms to lure child pornography traffickers and suspected sex predators and with a warrant, can seize suspects and defendants’ email records. But Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites provide a wealth of additional information, in photographs, status updates and friend lists. In many cases, the information is publicly accessible.

In a section entitled “utility in criminal cases”, the document says agents can scan suspects’ profiles to establish motives, determine a person’s location, and tap into personal communication, for instance through Facebook status updates.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. What’s notable is that the Electronic Freedom Foundation got hold of an internal Department of Justice slideshow (presumably a PowerPoint presentation) dealing with this topic. The excerpts in the news story are fascinating.

The article goes on to point out that social networking sites are often checked as part of employment background checks–again, not news, although not necessarily publicized. I happened to be with a personnel guy when he checked the social networking page (not Facebook) of a job applicant. The picture of the applicant smoking a joint did not further the applicant’s chances for employment (no confidence was violated–I didn’t know who the applicant was or what the applicant looked like).

Mentioned, but not resolved, in the Department of Justice slideshow was the question of whether an agent’s creating a Facebook account under an assumed name violates Facebook’s terms of service. Given that undercover police work has a long history, I suspect this practice would be considered equivalent to working under cover, but I am not a lawyer.

Folks need to remember that the internet is a public place.

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