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Social Networks United States Your Rights Online

EFF Wants To Know If the Feds Are Cyberstalking 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the answer-seems-obvious dept.
rossendryv writes "The Electronic Frontier Foundation and UC Berkeley's Samuelson Center filed suit in California's Northern District, asking the court to force a number of government agencies to hand over any documents they have concerning the use of social networking sites as part of investigative procedures."
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EFF Wants To Know If the Feds Are Cyberstalking

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  • Why wouldn't they? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:19PM (#30305674)

    Why wouldn't the feds do this? It would be irresponsible of them to *NOT* look at social networking sites for illegal activities. I'm not saying that there's a treasure trove of information there, but come on, this isn't private data we're talking about here. If the FBI or CIA ir CSIS or NSA or ABC is looking for info on me, they should at the very least be putting "Beardo the Bearded" into Google and following the links.

    If someone is putting things up in public for anyone to see then I can't see any problems with a government agency looking over these records. I'm all for privacy, but once you put it up in public, good luck, Mrs. Streisand.

  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:24PM (#30305738)

    I completely agree with this. I see this as no different from "the Feds" looking at your webpage to see what you post there, or your "personal" blog.

    If you want to put personal information on the web for "the public" to see, I don't see how you think "the Feds" can't look at it ... just like everyone else.

  • oblig (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:29PM (#30305802)
    Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean the feds aren't following you on facebook/twitter...
  • Re:Mafia wars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Buelldozer (713671) <cliff@noSPaM.gindulis.net> on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:41PM (#30305908)

    While he's at it he should sue Zynga for gross criminal negligence and crimes against programming!

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:43PM (#30305914)
    Are the Feds watching Facebook and other social networking sites? Did the STASI [wikipedia.org] keep tabs on East German citizens? I find it amusing to see people, especially those who are naïve about the way the world works, shocked that intelligence agencies might actually monitor information which they so graciously posted for all the world to see (gasp). Perhaps now they will receive a first hand lesson in why some of us consciously refuse to participate in social networking sites.
  • by Meshach (578918) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:45PM (#30305952)

    But dont i have a resonable expectation of privacy for my facebook it is not publicly searchable, only certain people on my friends list (Access Control List) can see the information i share this would make it more like an email communication medium, not a public information source?

    It may not be publicly searchable but I do not think that alone guarantees you it will remain private. If it is requested in certain ways it will be revealed.

  • by nozendo (1656053) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @09:26PM (#30306294)

    The issue isn't with, say, getting into facebook and checking out all your stupid farmville posts / drunken photos or etc, the issue is more on the privileged access side of things. Start thinking along the lines of your social graph and the back end of these sites and you have the gist of the real privacy issue here.

    How many times you've viewed a certain profile, the times of day you access the system, the timeline of your creation and deletion of connections with other people, the correlation of your mood from content against these actions etc etc. Base level data mining activity. Volume, frequency, timing. Combine this with X number of social sites and other activity in the cloud and you can get a pretty concise picture of someone's life depending on their volume of online interactions. It doesn't matter what the _actual_ content is, it's the least important part of the picture.

    Most of the responses to this topic online tend to drill down and go "I don't care if X can see my posted Y, I posted it assuming it was public domain". It really indicates that people are only aware of about a third of the real activities that are captured when you interact with social networking sites and the cloud as a whole.

  • by fotbr (855184) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @09:41PM (#30306408) Journal

    Really.

    Chances are, no one in government cares about you, or your drunken antics posted on facespace. If they did, well, you put it out in public, so quit complaining when they read it.

    Take the tin foil off. You're not that interesting outside your little circle of friends.

  • by Eil (82413) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @09:57PM (#30306526) Homepage Journal

    Well, there is still a problem. I can't speak for any of the other social networking sites, but Facebook in particular puts fairly strong emphasis on the concept of publishing information publicly (viewable by anyone) versus publishing information privately (viewable only by "friends", ostensibly). 90% of their users don't grok the concept that putting anything online at all by definition means that the information they post is now beyond their control. Sure, their terms of service say that they can do this but the public has been trained by corporations to not take such contracts seriously, let alone read them.

    Sites like Facebook should not be allowed to use the word "private," because their definition of the word actually means, "viewable by your friends, every Facebook employee, law enforcement and investigative agencies, and other undisclosed entities that we sell, lease, or give your information to."

    I'm not saying Facebook is doing anything illegal or underhanded, nor am I saying that users shouldn't be bound to the contracts that they agree to no matter how small the print. Just that Facebook and most other online services are seriously misrepresenting their use of the word "private."

  • by nozendo (1656053) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @10:10PM (#30306624)

    Look further though. You're essentially a part of a neural style network here. You might be dull as a box of hankies but a professional associate, a relative, even at N degrees of separation - you're providing additional information against that person. It's not _you_ or even your N+1 or N+2 relations, its your overall participation in the mesh of interactions.

    In a very simple case you can be a part of a border analysis against another person. Your professional activities, your actions, combined with a group of people that encapsulate (via common connections) another individual or a subset of individuals is extremely valuable for analysis.

    This boggles me that we have a group of what I can assume are intelligent professionals here that can't see past the most elementary, low level application of information research / analysis. I've done incredibly effective analysis against individuals with a handful of public domain information, none of which was _direct_ content of theirs, let alone what I could do with access to the entire facebook back end.

  • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @10:15PM (#30306668)

    On the other hand, I've done nothing illegal, and as a DoD employee, have held a security clearence for over 20 years.

    Few things there:

    1) If you get an aggressive investigator, he could make it unpleasant for you on your next re-investigation if you're foolish enough to tie your fringe group views tied to your actual identity. Assuming your Daddy's family name wasn't "Piss", I'll guess you're OK there.

    2) Their level of interest of you depends on the clearance level. For instance, my cell carrier probably put more effort into checking my background than the gov puts into a DoD secret, for instance.

    3) DoD is, I think, less concerned about such things than their brethren. Not sure why exactly.

    4) I'd care a lot more about my employer finding my profile than the gummint. Nobody really interesting in the gummint is legally allowed to collect against you, and the ones that are allowed generally refuse to work with the ones that don't.

  • by nozendo (1656053) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @10:21PM (#30306706)

    To try and demonstrate this:

    Person X on facebook has a private profile enabled but have allowed for their friends to be visible.

    Say 80% of their friends have public profiles on facebook. You'd then go through the process of mapping percentages for:

    - Their hometown
    - employment
    - common venues
    - level of facebook activity
    - interests, hobbies
    - participation in local events, clubs, universities etc

    Repeat for a couple of iterations down the friends of friends chain and guaranteed you could learn a massive amount about the individual regardless of profile status (eg, their employment, lifestyle, hobbies, timetable etc).

    Scale this up to properly managed automated engines for the task and multiple data sources and there's not much you couldn't pinpoint about an individual, even if for example they didn't use facebook but had a majority of associated who did. Replace facebook with anything, perhaps linked in because of its more "professional" sales pitch. FB is just an easy example.

  • by vvaduva (859950) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @10:26PM (#30306738)

    What the heck is "cyberstalking?" Doesn't wholesale wiretapping of both voice and data include this cyberstalking notion? EFF already sued over the patriot act and Obama's administration has made it even worse [boingboing.net] than before. Not even Bush kept email lists of their political enemies (as far as we know), so the question is moot.

  • by r7 (409657) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @10:50PM (#30306886)

    people don't liked to be watched (even though they have posted the info on the Intertubes for anyone to see). But I don't particularly care. I'm a bleeding heart liberal

    If you care more about yourself than the greater good then you are, by definition, not a liberal, bleeding heart or otherwise.

    With regards to the greater good, the reason citizens place limits on government investigation is because those investigative powers have been so frequently abused. Richard Nixon's Watergate, Joseph McCarthy's inquisitions and media blacklists, network television firing of the most popular entertainers (Smother's Brothers) for speaking out against Vietnam... the list is a long one, and anyone who does not care is either ignorant, liberatarian, or an anarchist.

  • by icannotthinkofaname (1480543) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:02PM (#30306972) Journal

    I see this as no different from "the Feds" looking at your webpage to see what you post there, or your "personal" blog.

    You're joking, right? I'm pretty sure it's very different, if I set facebook to let only my friends see my stuff. I never saw a friend request from the FBI, so why should they be allowed to probe my facebook stuff? That seems like a digital analogue to the feds just storming someone's house without first getting the owner's permission to enter the home.

    In other words, they better have a darn good reason and a written warrant with that reason if they want to see my facebook without first being my facebook friend.

    If you want to put personal information on the web for "the public" to see, I don't see how you think "the Feds" can't look at it ... just like everyone else.

    And if I set up my settings such that only certain people have explicit permission to view such information, then it ain't exactly "for the public to see", is it?

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) * on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:12PM (#30307016) Homepage Journal

    If the feds want to know about you, they can talk to your friends, and ask questions. They can talk to your business associates, and ask question. They can question your mom, dad, sisters, cousins, etc. If they get enough trash on you, they can get a warrant to search your house, your car, your home, computer, and your person. If they think your friends or family has good dirty evidence, they can get warrants to search THEIR homes, cars, persons.

    So. Given all of that - just exactly how much privacy is expected with an online social networking thing? Far less privacy than your home, for which a warrant is required before searching it. Maybe - just maybe - a little more privacy than a conversation with a job associate, for which no warrant is required before talking to him. Considerably less privacy than a conversation with your spouse, for which no warrant is required before speaking to him/her.

    I really do think that SOME DEGREE of privacy is appropriate for Facebook, etc. But, the question is, "How private should Facebook be?"

    Obviously, those pages that are publicly accessible to any bot, any viewer, are most definitely NOT private. If you've set your page so that it is publicly viewable, by all means, any law enforcement agent in the world can look at it, and use the data. But, if you set all your pages with maximum privacy and security, then maybe the cop should be required to get a warrant before gaining access.

    I can't really decide where a social networking account sits in the scale of privacy. I can't agree that they should all be off-limits to the law, nor can I agree that the law should be able to peruse everything ever put onto any page either. Much depends on those privacy and security settings.

    Bottom line, though - if you have something that you DO NOT want the law to find out about you, DO NOT put it online!! Don't tell your job associate, don't tell your best friend, don't tell your drinking buddy, don't tell the busybody across the street, and DON'T PUT IT ONLINE!!! If more than one person shares a secret, it is no longer a secret.

  • Re:Peekaboo! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thinboy00 (1190815) <thinboy00NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:35PM (#30307172) Journal

    Out of idle curiosity, is it safe to click that link, or will doing so get the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc following me? I'd just like to know so that when the feds show up I'll know what to say.

  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:37PM (#30307186)
    The problem with "nothing to hide", as Bruce Schneier has noted on his blog [schneier.com], is that is based upon the fallacious assumption that there is no threat to privacy unless the government uncovers unlawful activity. Now, you say that you are an honest citizen and I believe you, but here is the problem: the laws, as they exist today, are so complex and convoluted that it is practically impossible for ordinary Americans to live their everyday lives without breaking at least some of them. This is a common tool used by many governments, not just the United States, to maintain power over individual citizens. The implicit threat is that any one of us could be selected for "special attention" or "selective enforcement" at any time if the government (or some faction within the government) decides that it doesn't like us or that we are "troublemakers". In light of this truth, what do I gain from making it easier for the government to profile and watch me? You might argue that my efforts to remain anonymous, or at least pseudo-anonymous are futile and perhaps they are, but that doesn't mean that I am going to hand them my privacy on a silver platter.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:38PM (#30307196)
    If you want to put personal information on the web for "the public" to see, I don't see how you think "the Feds" can't look at it ... just like everyone else.

    Well, if you use a name that isn't yours on a web site, you can be prosecuted for hacking (see the case of the woman that got a myspace account just to harrass a child into suicide), so if the feds access your account without friending you under the name "FBI_Narc21" then they broke hacking laws, right? Shouldn't they have to follow the laws everyone else does? If not, they need a warrant.
  • by some_guy_88 (1306769) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:39PM (#30307204) Homepage

    Why is this modded troll? He has a good point. The difference between your public webpage and your facebook page is that only your friends are meant to be able to see your facebook page whereas your webpage is on the public web for anyone.

  • Re:oblig (Score:5, Insightful)

    by postbigbang (761081) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @11:53PM (#30307304)

    Me and 350M others. They can watch all they want. Add in twitter, myspace, linked-in, and every other gawdforsaken social network. Hey, we do it-- why not them? When they start poking into private space, and none of the aforementioned have a reasonable expectation of privacy as they're public places, then I'll get testy. Until then, I hope they don't waste too much taxpayer money on it.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @12:18AM (#30307434) Journal

    True. Now we have the question about "friends."

    I submit a request to be your Facebook friend as "CuteBlonde362436" and you accept, thinking that I might be a cute blonde with measurements 36-24-36. At this point, I have access to your information including the fact that you like to molest small woodland creatures. Of course, I'm neither cute, blonde, nor do I have those measurements. However, I am part of an FBI task force charged with protecting small woodland creatures from molestation and the reason I approached you on Facebook is due to an anonymous tip that said you were into that sort of thing.

    I now have all the evidence I need to have you locked up for a very long time.

    Entrapment?

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @12:42AM (#30307544)

    I submit a request to be your Facebook friend as "CuteBlonde362436" and you accept, thinking that I might be a cute blonde with measurements 36-24-36. At this point, I have access to your information including the fact that you like to molest small woodland creatures. Of course, I'm neither cute, blonde, nor do I have those measurements. However, I am part of an FBI task force charged with protecting small woodland creatures from molestation and the reason I approached you on Facebook is due to an anonymous tip that said you were into that sort of thing. I now have all the evidence I need to have you locked up for a very long time. Entrapment?

    No. Entrapment would be if "CuteBlonde362436"* _enticed_ him to molest small woodland creatures and then arrested him for such. BTW, the government is probably everyone's friend on facebook. Private fraud investigators apparently are. * (who would be a disabled account anyway, since fake names aren't allowed)

  • Yes they are (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davidwr (791652) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @12:51AM (#30307582) Homepage Journal

    Next question.

  • by number11 (129686) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @03:00AM (#30308092)

    Anyone who thinks that any law enforcement agency will hand over any information at all concerning ongoing investigations is living on Fantasy Island.

    This is true. Likewise anyone who thinks that any law enforcement agency can be counted on to obey the law.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 03, 2009 @06:59AM (#30308916)

    On the other hand, I've done nothing illegal [...]

    Are you sure? Do you know all the laws of the land, and are you absolutely sure you didn't break one of them? With the amount of laws our society has nowadays it's pretty much impossible to do nothing illegal. Me, I'm a hardened criminal. I speed, I use illegal drugs, I jaywalk, I'm a copyright infringer, and probably break dozens of laws daily, but I still consider myself to be an upstanding citizen. But then again, I do not confuse illegal with immoral.

    Oblig. quote: "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." Cardinal Richelieu

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