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Undercover Feds on Social Networking Sites Raise Questions

By Wired

March 16, 2010



The next time someone tries to "friend" you on Facebook, it may turn out to be an undercover fed looking to examine your private messages and photos, or surveil your friends and family. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has obtained an internal Justice Department document that describes what law enforcement is doing on social networking sites.

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, according to the Associated Press.

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 says evidence from social networking sites can:

· Reveal personal communications

· Establish motives and personal relationships

· Provide location information

· Prove and disprove alibis

· Establish crime or criminal enterprise

The investigative techniques were part of a slide presentation titled “Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites” given last year by John Lynch, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property division to describe how valuable social networking sites can be to give law enforcement access to non-public information.

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