Undercover Men in Black Lurking on Facebook
March 17, 2010
(ChattahBox)—Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are virtually crawling with undercover Feds, searching for evidence and background information on criminal suspects, defendants, witnesses, potential employees and other targets of federal investigations. And even local police have discovered the use of social networking sites as an investigative tool. But a Justice Department document detailing the Fed’s online sleuthing methods, obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, raises questions about the legal basis for assuming a fake identity, which violates Facebook’s and other sites’ Terms of Service.
According to a report by Wired’s Threat Level blog, the 33-page document reveals that law enforcement officials have been trolling social network sites for quite some time now, and the document shares some techniques and uses for undercover online sleuthing:
“The 33-page document shows that law enforcement agents from local police to the FBI and Secret Service have been logging on to MySpace and other sites undercover to communicate with suspects, read private postings and view photos and videos that are restricted to a user’s friends. The document also describes techniques for verifying alibis — such as checking messages posted by a suspect on Twitter disclosing his whereabouts at the time a crime was committed — and uncovering information that might point to illegal activity, such as photos depicting a suspect with expensive jewelry, a new car or even a weapon.”
The document raises the legality of evidence obtained while assuming a fake identity online, but doesn’t’ provide an answer. The document asks, “Can failure to follow [terms of service] render access unauthorized?” “If agents violate terms of service, is that ‘otherwise illegal activity’?”
Marc Zwillinger, a former federal prosecutor, told the Associate Press that safeguards need to be established for online investigative activity, which is not permissible in the real world, but employed frequently in the virtual world.
“This new situation presents a need for careful oversight so that law enforcement does not use social networking to intrude on some of our most personal relationships,” said Zwillinger.
See Wired.com for more.