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Federal Agents Quietly Using Social Media 171

SpuriousLogic passes along this excerpt from the ChiTrib: "The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter, too. US law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting. ... The document... makes clear that US agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target's friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs, and video clips. Among other purposes: Investigators can check suspects' alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree... can link suspects or their friends to robberies or burglaries." The FoIA lawsuit was filed by the EFF, which has posted two documents obtained from the action, from the DoJ and Internal Revenue (more will be coming later). The rights group praises the IRS for spelling out limitations and prohibitions on deceptive use of social media by its agents — unlike the DoJ. The US Marshalls and the BATFE could not find any documents related to the FoIA request, so presumably they have no guidelines or prohibitions in this area.
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Federal Agents Quietly Using Social Media

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  • As a member of SDS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:18PM (#31501548) Homepage Journal

    We are not the baby boomer's SDS run by Marxist dogma by the way. Just wanted to get that out there before people start yelling commie. Mostly we act as a guard against the insane grabs of power and money by academic institutions that have been occurring at an alarming rate since the late 1990's. We are about as socialist on average as the socialist democrats are in Europe, even though we have some outliers.

    We have had an online presence for years and the one thing we set out at the start was to be open so if infiltration happened it would be well documented. There are no closed email lists, no secret societies and no calls to violence or overthrowing of the government. However, that does not mean that we have not been spied upon [newsds.org] and we do take threats to our civil rights to assembly, speech and liberty seriously. What we worry about mostly is the threat of the government running counter intelligence programs against us like COUNTELPRO [wikipedia.org] in the 70's since the FBI and the US DOD have been linked to some instances of agent provocateur activity during the Bush years. So the question that any investigation of these acts by the government is when they stop being surveillance and start being about collecting data on honest citizens who surround a suspect and via police misconduct and prosecutorial witchhunts.

  • Re:Also.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:19PM (#31501562)
    Except that this is different, in that once an agent has "friended" you on Facebook, your profile becomes available to the entire investigative agency. If an agent meets me at the bar and engages me in conversation, they learn only as much as I tell them -- perhaps that is a significant amount, perhaps they can use that conversation to investigate me further, but they are not receiving a profile of my entire life, and they cannot continue questioning me when I am not around. It is the nature of round-the-clock access to a person's profile and life, and the spillover into their friend's lives (now the agent can read wall posts and various other little hints about what your friends are up to) that makes this a more intrusive form of investigation.
  • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:31PM (#31501694)
    No, we are talking about government agents create fake profiles for the purpose of extracting information from people and granting access to the profile to other agents, and then calling it an "undercover operation." It is the equivalent of a government agent convincing someone to give the agent a key to their home, so that law enforcement personnel can wander through their house and look through their things.

    It is as much of a privacy issue as an FBI agent going undercover as a babysitter would be. If it is just a technique for finding information on people who are already suspects in a crime, it is a prudent method for gathering evidence; but if and when the situation changes and the government starts using these tactics against random people, just to see if crimes are being committed, then it is a serious invasion of privacy.
  • Re:I'd hope so. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @05:35PM (#31501744)
    What stops this process from being automated or performed en masse? There are chat bots that could carry on a conversation with a person long enough to convince the person to accept a friend request, and the government could then simply download the entire profile that the person posted -- and continue to receive updates, and all done automatically. It would not be trivial, but it is certainly conceivable that such an operation could be carried out by a large agency that employs expert programmers.
  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @07:19PM (#31502906)

    IANAL, so don't believe or rely on a word of my post. However:

    (1) Police are allowed to lie. The most common example is in interrogations and interviews. One of the most successful techniques for eliciting a confession from a suspect is confronting them with evidence against the suspect. The police will do this with both false and true evidence. The false evidence (pretending they have evidence) may be slightly less effective than true evidence, IIRC, but both are common interrogation techniques. Source: Lao's "Inside the Interrogation Room." Google it. Personally, I think it's one of the main reasons that we have a huge segment of society that really hates the police--it's not because the police are arresting them, it's because to most people, a lie is unprofessional and insulting, and the police use them all the time. It's a problem, because officers do a lot of really good work and are often very professional. I think every time I've encountered a police officer, they've been polite and professional. But many people I've known have had the opposite experience.

    (2) You are usually allowed to lie to a cop, but you shouldn't. It IS a crime to lie to a Federal Agent, IIRC, but in most states I don't think it's a crime to lie to a police officer. But if you're arrested for something and you go to trial, you're going to have to explain why you lied to the cop. And a cop can ALWAYS find something to arrest you with. Good luck getting the jury to believe you after you've been caught in a lie. "So you lied to the officer?" "Yes." "But that means you're a liar, doesn't it?" "Er..." "So you're story is you lie sometimes to police officers, but you don't lie to juries?"

    (3) Police are also allow to do pretty much anything a member of the public can do, and some things a member of the public can't, to pursue a criminal investigation. For example, in... Wisconsin, I think... police officers can do what would be considered identity theft if someone else did it.

    (4) In the South, police can do whatever they want. This isn't true legally, but sometimes it's true in fact. (Although you can always fight them in court, after.) They may be more helpful if you're white (I actually saw them helping a woman change her tire!) but more likely to pull you out of the car and threaten you at shotgun point for being both black and in their town. (Happened to someone I know.) Although these are generalizations; there are really wonderful police officers all over, as there are really horrible ones in many places. You get encounters with good cops and bad cops everywhere.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?