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Government Admits Spying Via Facebook 240

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the next-they'll-poke-you dept.
Velcroman1 writes "Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously said that the age of privacy is over. And the government wants to ensure that, it seems. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's FOIA request has revealed government memos encouraging agents to befriend people on a variety of social networks, to take advantage of their readiness to share — and to spy on them. Thanks to this request, the government released a handful of documents, including a May 2008 memo detailing how social-networking sites are exploited by the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS), and one revealing how the DHS monitored social media during the Obama inauguration."
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Government Admits Spying Via Facebook

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  • Anyone surprised? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:51AM (#33894092) Homepage

    It's a way for individuals to connect and organize in a way that many of them think is private. Ripe fruit for wandering government eyes.

    • ...in a way that many of them think is private.

      This is an anecdote that expired a few years ago. I do not believe that there are very many people at all that still believe this. Indeed, it's *ALL OVER* the news about how very little of people's "on-line" life is private.

      • Re:Anyone surprised? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:11AM (#33894560) Homepage

        I'm referring to sending private messages between people, keeping their privacy settings locked down, etc.

        Besides, there are people that still think Obama is a muslim hell-bent on destroying America. There are people that still believe in the big, invisible man. There are people who still judge by skin color, for fuck's sake. I'm sure there are people who still think their online life is private.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by poetmatt (793785)

          The difference here is that people deserve some modicum of privacy. Granted, putting things public is not the way to do it, but we need a better balance than gov't spying without a court order.

          I also agree that the aforementioned people are also the kinds that make those crazy christian coalitions and get hellbent on assassinating the prez or other ridiculously insane ideas. The correlation of religion and violence is astounding within certain religions, and I mean christian and not necessarily muslim.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765)

            Euhm, quite frankly if you were tasked with keeping the president safe on that day ... wouldn't you do the same ?

            All they "spied" upon was information published by the individuals, do you really have any sense of privacy of your facebook wall ? And of course, people had to ACCEPT this government "intrusion". It was 100% opt-in.

            This is like people taking a shower and complaining they get wet. Completely nonsensical.

            Besides, government spying on facebook ... who cares. If only the companies on facebook stoppe

          • If you want privacy, don't post personal details of your life online. Don't assume because you set things to private that only certain people will be able to see them. Follow those rules and you won't feel so exposed.
            • by Pojut (1027544)

              ^^^This times a thousand. I'm fairly active on Facebook, but I still only post things that I wouldn't mind my mother or local police department hearing about.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      Not surprised, considering that when facebook was founded there were a flurry of rumors that it was partly funded by the NSA, that Zuckerberg himself was a federal employee, and all kinds of things relating to how if the government wanted to collect information on its citizens without really trying, that a nice big free social network was exactly the way to do it.

      Who knows how much of it is true, but holy crap is the latter part right or what.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by budgenator (254554)

        If the NSA is worried about the lost grey kitty that wandered lost into my farmville farm, we're fucked anyways.

    • Yes, it's somewhat of a surprise for me: there's information on facebook that is of interest to them? Does this mean that terrorists are such idiots that they give clues as to their plans in their status updates? What is it about facebook that makes all people act stupid? I guess I'm not as surprised as if the FBI announced it had been active on hotornot.com, but TFA also mentions they monitor twitter? Yeah, that's surprising to me, since it implies at least a few criminals are so stupid, they tweet the

      • by bmo (77928)

        Does this mean that terrorists are such idiots that they give clues as to their plans in their status updates?

        The prisons are not full of geniuses.

        What is it about facebook that makes all people act stupid?

        Half of everyone has an IQ lower than 100 (and half higher, by definition). It's not Facebook's fault.

        TFA also mentions they monitor twitter?

        Yeah, why the fuck not?

        Yeah, that's surprising to me, since it implies at least a few criminals are so stupid, they tweet their crimes before they do them

        This surp

        • This surprises you? What about the converse where people tell the whole fucking world on FB and Twatter that they are ON VACATION FOR A WEEK NOBODY IS HOME PLEASE ROB ME.

          That did surprise me when I first heard it, a few years ago.

          I'm checking up on, er, colleagues to make sure they're not going to scoop us..."

          If you're a reporter and you're NOT using FB, Twatter, and such, to look for leads on stories, you're behind the times and need to get with the program.

          Good thing I'm not a reporter.

      • by qubezz (520511)

        Yes, it's somewhat of a surprise for me: there's information on facebook that is of interest to them? Does this mean that terrorists are such idiots that they give clues as to their plans in their status updates?

        The cops sure think so: examine this story, where comedian Joe Lipari had half a dozen semi-automatic-wielding men-in-black beating on his door to arrest him under the terrorist act within an hour of him making a 'threatening' joke status update on Facebook. Terrorism criminal charges still pending.

    • understanding the implications of lack of online privacy. I have said it many times, there is a fortune to be made in solving the problem of online privacy.
  • Nothing New Here (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wiredog (43288) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:51AM (#33894104) Journal

    Anyone who was on Kuro5hin in 2002 knew the Secret Service was keeping an eye on it. I'm sure they watch /. as well.

  • In all fairness... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frozentier (1542099) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:54AM (#33894180)
    It isn't actually "spying" if the person is willingly sharing information, or has information posted that everyone can read. "Spying" is getting information that a person doesn't want others to have.
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:06AM (#33894438) Homepage

      I was thinking much the same thing... What we're actually seeing here isn't spying, but a form of undercover work.

      The moral of the story is the same as always: If you wouldn't want your mother to know, don't post it online.

      • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:53AM (#33895358) Homepage Journal

        I was thinking much the same thing... What we're actually seeing here isn't spying, but a form of undercover work.

        Privacy is a function of sharing information with a limited set of people. You may want your wife to see you naked, but that doesn't mean you want everybody walking by your house to look in your bathroom window. You may want to share that embarrassing problem with your doctor, but that doesn't mean you want it in the newspaper. You may want your credit counselor to know about all your bad debt, but that doesn't mean you talk about it at the company picnic. You may want your friends to know where you're going to be this weekend, but that doesn't mean you want government workers to keep an eye on your movements.

        What is spying if not one entity trying to obtain information that the counterparty does not want shared with it? What is undercover work if not planting spies to obtain such information?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tlhIngan (30335)

          I was thinking much the same thing... What we're actually seeing here isn't spying, but a form of undercover work.

          Privacy is a function of sharing information with a limited set of people. You may want your wife to see you naked, but that doesn't mean you want everybody walking by your house to look in your bathroom window. You may want to share that embarrassing problem with your doctor, but that doesn't mean you want it in the newspaper. You may want your credit counselor to know about all your bad debt,

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nidi62 (1525137)

          You may want your wife to see you naked, but that doesn't mean you want everybody walking by your house to look in your bathroom window.

          You also don't invite your neighbors over while you're walking by the window naked. If you are friending someone you don't know on facebook, you are basically inviting them to sit in the room and watch while you sleep with your wife.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by geekoid (135745)

          If you post a picture of yourself in a public space, you are seriously increasing your circle of privacy.

          Getting information someone has kept private is spying. Gathering information from several public places is undercover work.

      • Well seeing as my Mother isn't a government agent and is more likely to be a political dissident than I am I would find a slightly different slogan in this instance.

    • by mdm-adph (1030332)

      With the typically sharing-by-default policies that Facebook seems to be constantly dropping on people's accounts, I don't see why they're even bothering to friend people anymore, honestly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by qoncept (599709)
      Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Dr. Strangelove) wasn't a spy?
    • by jours (663228)
      Not only willingly sharing, but actually "friending" the agent. That's like inviting the agent over for a dinner party with all your friends. Yeah, sort of hard to maintain an expectation of privacy there...
    • It's a pretty blurry line, and a key part of "information that a person doesn't want others to have" is who those "others" are. Presumably, there's information that people give out on Facebook etc. that they want their friends to have, but not someone at DHS trolling for points to use against them. Now, you can argue that these people are idiots, that they shouldn't "friend" people so readily, that they shouldn't trust FB's (complete lack of) security, etc. -- and all that is true, but a spy who takes adv

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      In other words, "the age of privacy is over" if like an idiot you share information you don't want public with the public. Funny thing that.

      Although in the interests of full disclosure, I don't even have a Facebook account. If somebody wants to tell me about their life, we can have a nice low-tech conversation. I don't get all the latest juice on everyone I conceivably know, but I get a lot of good face-to-face time.

    • by horza (87255)

      I don't see how pretending to be somebody else in order to obtain information could be misconstrued as "spying".

      Phillip.

    • It isn't actually "spying" if the person is willingly sharing information, or has information posted that everyone can read. "Spying" is getting information that a person doesn't want others to have.

      This seems to be unconstitutional. On one hand, we have the First Amendment, on the other hand there is the Fourth Amendment. Now... if terrorists or criminals are publicly posting their exploits, well that is different. But initiating investigations based entirely on Constitutionally protected opinion or association is certainly a violation, and such investigations, once they get beyond what is public, in turn, violate the Fourth.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      On /., it's spying even if you knowingly and voluntary give them the data.

  • Next they'll be reading billboards, magazines and, well, every other place where people post information for others to see.

    • There is a difference, though. A lot of people think that by setting information their privacy settings, they are ensuring that the government would have to put effort into getting the information (e.g. a court order).
      • by jank1887 (815982)

        right. and they would have to put effort into getting information against a person's wishes. but they can freely ask whatever questions they want. the court order is for compelling the release of that information, or the forcible search for such information, etc.

  • it's a request (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dirk (87083) <dirk@one.net> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @10:59AM (#33894274) Homepage

    I don't see any issue with this as long as they are requesting access and not being fraudulent about their request. If Joe Governmentworker sends you a friend request, and you accept it, you are giving him permission to view your data. If you don't know him, then you shouldn't accept the friend request.

    Now if they are using fake profiles and false information to do this, then I see an issue, but as long as they are legitimate accounts, I don't see a problem with it at all.

    • by kellyb9 (954229)

      Now if they are using fake profiles and false information to do this, then I see an issue, but as long as they are legitimate accounts, I don't see a problem with it at all.

      While I generally agree, you shouldn't accept a friend request if you're not entirely sure you know the person requesting it. This is basically the equivalent of phishing, and whether it’s the US gov't or some royal family member in Ethiopia looking for $1,000 dollars, you should always check where the request is coming from.

    • by dyfet (154716)

      And if Jane FBI agent comes knocking on your door and says she's an Avon lady, and you let her in, she can search your premise while your getting coffee for her because you assumed she was friendly?!

      • by lwsimon (724555)

        I actually believe that is legal. They couldn't go checking the drawers, but if there's a bong on your coffee table, they can use it as evidence.

  • the practice of law enforcement is an actual valid endeavour. what is going on here is less east german secret police tracking innocent civilians, and more plain old gum shoe police work against actual criminals

    and really, to get right down to it: you don't have any protection from what you put out on the web being revealed. this includes old friends from high school, potential employers, spamvertisers... and the government. so if you don't want it revealed or shared, DON'T PUT IT ON THE WEB. why does this amazingly obvious fact escape people?

    it just seems kind of insane to me that people want to share stuff in public on an open medium, and then act shocked and dismayed that someone MIGHT ACTUALLY SEE IT. its some sort of human pscyhological blind spot: for some unknown reason, people trust the web with really personal details, when the web is about the exact opposite of the kind of place you want to put those personal details. its as if people don't actually understand that the internet is the most searchable, most wide open medium invented by mankind, but we treat it as if it is our private diary stashed under our bed. why is that? what is the source of this glaring psychological defect so many of us share about the nature of the internet?

    • by StikyPad (445176)

      I'm not sure datamining qualifies as gumshoe work, but I agree with the rest of your sentiment. If you don't want the world to see it, don't put it online. That said, if you're doing something illegal and making videos of it, please go ahead and put it online -- and don't forget to provide your mobile number for those temporary passwords!

    • I'm always amused by the mouthbreathers who take video of themselves committing some crime and post it on Youtube. Then they're shocked, SHOCKED, when the cops see it and they get arrested.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      what is going on here is less east german secret police tracking innocent civilians, and more plain old gum shoe police work against actual criminals

      RTFA. They're tracking enormous numbers of people, with no probable cause to believe these people are committing any crimes ... unless you consider "potentially having political affiliations the government doesn't like" to be probable cause, of course. It's a fishing expedition, something which US law has traditionally frowned upon but which is very characteristic of governments like the old East German one. It's perfectly true that people should be more careful about what information they post online.

      • the policeman drives up and down the street, looks at cars, looks at people walking on the street, looking at residences...

        is that a fishing expedition in your mind? of course not

        but that's what you are calling a "fishing expedition" on the internet. you have this bizarre idea that information freely and openly and publicly published is somehow immune to public viewing of it by the government, by advertisers, by people you don't want to reconnect with. it's not just you, it's some sort of mass delusion, some sort of cognitive disconnect about the nature of the internet. people treat it as if it is their private keepsake box in their closet, when the internet is about the exact opposite of such a concept. you expect shock, dismay and disgust, that the police would look at something "private" when it isn't even remotely private. the problem is not the police. the problem is people who have this cognitive disconnect about the nature of the internet like you are demonstrating

    • by Danathar (267989)

      The east german police secret police tracked innocent civilians AND did plain old gum shoe police work against actual criminals.

      Why do you think that if an organization does one thing it means they can't or will not in the future do the other?

    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:37AM (#33895100) Journal

      It's not so much that people misunderstand the internet, it's that they misunderstand computers and automation and what all that is capable of.

      It's because everyone else assumes that the massive amount of information put on the internet makes their little tidbit just another drop in the ocean, and that in order for people to find it they have to be actively looking for it, and no one would look for it if they didn't know it already existed.

      For example: My mother. She knows the Ballet has a phone number, but she doesn't know what it is. She'll go use the internet to look it up. Now the effort is there, she finds it, it makes sense.

      But no one knows she would have vacation photos from 1995, so how are they possibly going to find them without searching them? They see the internet as the kind of place where everything can sit, and only the people you want to find stuff will be able to find it because they will be the only ones looking for it. Phone number? Yeah put it on your facebook because only your friends will see your Facebook. That's the kind of mentality there is. They think no one they don't know will bother looking at their facebook. And they figure it's better to have that accessibility to your friends and loved ones and it outweighs the "off chance" that someone you don't want to grab that information will find it.

      The missing piece of the puzzle is that they don't seem to know that people can set up scripts to run through facebook profiles, and grab all the data it can, store it, analyze it, and be used by a variety of people in many different forms. From police work to advertising to far more malicious intents.

      Everyone just thinks "It can't or won't happen to me" - you know like drunk driving or World of Warcraft.

      • the average joe just don't think like a computer scientist. a computer programmer can look at the internet and see a giant dataset ready to be be algorithmed to death. an IT guy, right before he or she hits the "Submit" button, can visualize the web spider that will arrive 10 minutes later, heuristically puree and flambee those words and pictures into an intelligent hierarchy, and offer it up for consumption to anyone typing search terms into a search engine 10 minutes later. the average joe just doesn't th

    • by radtea (464814)

      against actual criminals

      Nope. This sort of thing is perfectly legitimate, but we all know the vast majority of it isn't aimed at actual criminals, but merely people who happen to have been brought to the attention of the Organs of the State (as the Soviets used to call them.)

      It's still perfectly legitimate police work, but like all police work it necessarily casts a wider net than criminals, which is why the presumption of innocence is such an important habit of mind.

    • by sorak (246725)

      what is the source of this glaring psychological defect so many of us share about the nature of the internet?

      Narcissism.

    • the practice of law enforcement is an actual valid endeavour

      Only when the laws are valid. Which in many cases they aren't.

      Legalizing something just makes it legal, not moral, not right, not correct, etc.

      against actual criminals

      But there is no evidence that they are against actual criminals though.

      There is so little oversight when it comes to the police and the military we don't -know- as taxpayers what all they do.

  • by WhoseSideAreWeOn (1916768) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:00AM (#33894304)
    This is not a case of more spying by the government rather more volunteering of information by the citizens. There's a very simple solution if you don't want government spooks reading your facebook information: Don't post sensitive information on facebook (or anywhere on the internet for that matter)!
  • ..as I naively thought that the rule about writing down stuff whenever one wants the world to know it, is already a common knowledge. Those refusing to understand full potential of writing should take datamining courses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:06AM (#33894436)

    I work for a bank, and as I'm sure you might guess, our Accounts Control folks (they are the people who repo delinquent property) use Facebook, Twitter, and others all the time to find where people are and where to find the delinquent property. It's incredibly effective.

  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:08AM (#33894500)
    ...is this surprising? The Patriot Act "dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records." [wikipedia.org]
    Facebook just makes it easier.

    So, Slashdot...what information are you divulging to our government overlords? ;)
  • So basically....

    Government: Hey, can we spy on you?
    You: Sure, friend request accepted.

    If you're being spyed on, its pretty much your fault. Its like giving the police access to your home and saying "Hey, come in whenever you want."
    • More like,

      Joe Schmoe: Hi I want to be your Facebook Friend!
      You: Oh, sure, did we meet at that huge party?
      Joe Schmoe: Yup!

      With no indication that the request came from the government. I wouldn't be surprised if the process had been automated -- if the only time a live person was involved was when the target sent a message asking for details about the friend request.
  • YRO? Wrong. (Score:3, Funny)

    by chemicaldave (1776600) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:09AM (#33894522)
    How is this related to YRO? This isn't a threat to anyone's rights online, not even privacy.
  • by xiao_haozi (668360) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:12AM (#33894596) Homepage Journal
    Robert S. Mueller, III just poked you. Poke him back? Robert S. Mueller, III tagged you in a photo. (picture of you sitting at your computer right now)
    • Robert S. Mueller, III has just invited you to TerroristVille. How about sending him a free gift in return?

  • We all are suspects these days. It sucks and we should do something about it.
    • We all are suspects these days. It sucks and we should do something about it.

      Queue vision of a tween boy sitting sullenly behind his computer, sucking a lollipop and pouting.

  • Can somebody please program an add-on that encrypts messages, pictures and text on facebook?
    E.g. like the blowfish add-on that exist for IRC programs, that makes text unreadable for people without the correct key.

    • by genner (694963) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:19AM (#33894770)

      Can somebody please program an add-on that encrypts messages, pictures and text on facebook? E.g. like the blowfish add-on that exist for IRC programs, that makes text unreadable for people without the correct key.

      A key that you give out to your friends?

    • by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:25AM (#33894862) Homepage
      Using encryption on Facebook is like locking the doors on a house with no walls
      • Analogy of the Day award goes to Ickleberry!

        (Hey, we should make that a real Slashdot feature. You just click on a post to nominate it into a voting system, that could be a box on the right of the homepage, winner gets an achievement)

    • by immakiku (777365)
      What's the point of that? Making things secret and posting them publicly seem like mutually exclusive things to do. If you just want to communicate to a small group of people, send an email or an IM.
      • It is interesting that you should bring up email and IM. I have a number of friends who are somewhat annoyed by the fact that I am not on Facebook and that they have to actually communicate with me using email/IM. For example, a friend posted some pictures of her at an event...and then seemed annoyed by the very concept of emailing those pictures to me, instead of just having me log in to Facebook and look at them. On a number of occasions, people have refused to send me an email at all, demanding that I
  • What would be (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:16AM (#33894680)

    Really interesting would be if someone managed to compile statistics on what the success rate for such fishing expeditions is, so that the public could see what an efficient use of public funds and time such methods provide.

    When will people get their heads around the fact that the law-breaker always has the initiative? The only way you can successfully prevent all crimes is to chain everyone to a wall and gag them. All of this "prevention" necessarily comes at the cost of individual freedom and privacy. However as a side effect it produces data and situations that can easily be exploited by corrupt law enforcement officers and/or politicians. Western society is traveling down a very dangerous road, and most people seem oblivious to that fact.

  • Sadly, Slashdot is not on the list of social sites to monitor for activity. We're all just too dorky to matter. I mean, come on, Huffington Post? The girls are hotter over there, I guess.
  • The information on you that worth "spying" is already public. Not only the government (that should be more or less trustable) can access it. The NOT trustable people (for whatever reason, be plain thieves, scammers, lawyers or car dealers, pick the worst) can access it too.
  • Seriously: Are the rest of the myopic public going to finally come to their senses and realize this is now the truth? The good news is that it's not irrevocable: we can recover our privacy, it's just going to take effort and sacrifices to accomplish.
  • Am I the only one here who is starting to lament the passing of the honey-trap? I can't get laid any other way...

1: No code table for op: ++post

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