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Government Admits Spying Via Facebook 240

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.

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

    by dirk ( 87083 ) <> 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.

  • 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 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)!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:02AM (#33894342)


    If you go sharing information with strangers you don't know, then they haven't spied on you!

    The world has gone insane. Positively bat shit.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> 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 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 Monchanger ( 637670 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:24AM (#33894852) Journal

    No since you, the user, didn't care enough to find out who this "friend" was and because of that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy from a stranger you invited into your circle of confidence. If you want privacy, keep things private by not sharing them, which you already do by putting them on a server not under your control. The onus to keep something private is completely on you up to the point where the law is actually broken and you can't possible be able to maintain your privacy.

    If a government agency installed a black box in Facebook's datacenter, that would be an actual violation and perhaps "spy" would apply.

  • by ickleberry ( 864871 ) <> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:25AM (#33894862) Homepage
    Using encryption on Facebook is like locking the doors on a house with no walls
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:29AM (#33894942) Homepage Journal

    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. It is also true that our government should not be looking willy-nilly through the information people do provide in order to find the rope with which to hang them.

  • Re:No Different (Score:3, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @11:30AM (#33894960)
    Except that the government is not supposed to be free to do everything that an individual citizen can do. The bill of rights does not apply to individuals, it is a restriction on what the government can do.

    The problem with Facebook is that most people do not feel that what they are sharing on Facebook really needs to be private -- after all, they are sharing things that their circle of friends already knows. The difference is that, where previously the government would have actually had to put effort into learning those details from a person's social circle, they can now just ask Facebook, and that process can be automated. Dispatching an agent to infiltrate your circle of friends and learn more about you would necessarily be reserved for cases where it was necessary; with that no longer being necessary, the government can keep track of citizens' lives en masse, which at the very least runs counter to the spirit of the 4th amendment.
  • 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.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:04PM (#33895540)
    Just make a limited government like the framers of the US constitution were planning and the majority of real issues go away.

    Democracy leads to mob rule no matter how carefully you plan it. A limited government using democracy leads to peace and prosperity. But the point is, the government has to be very limited to prevent abuses.

    Take for instance gay marriage, if your neighbor is gay does that make you gay? If you are gay and your neighbor is straight does that make you less gay? The very idea of taking something that shouldn't be a government problem and making it into an issue in elections is simply the tyranny of the majority, and I don't think that meta-government or any other solution other than limited government would prevent these things because these issues are becoming more and more common.

    There are a ton of rights that the government, and by extension the people, should have no say in your exercise of them. The freedom of your own body, to do whatever you wish to it without harming others is a basic right. The right to free expression is a basic right. The right to own property, to engage in business, and to be entitled to the fruit of your labors are all basic rights too. These things should have no government involvement and by extension democracy should not violate them.

    Democracy, metagovernment, etc. is only worthwhile when the government is limited, that is the key point. The key point isn't that we live in a democracy, the key point is that we were/are under a limited government.
  • by Mister Whirly ( 964219 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:11PM (#33895652) Homepage
    Not quite. The whole point of social networks is to share information. But ultimately you decide what that information is. There is some semblance of privacy, but the privacy rules change so I just always assume anything I post can be seen by anyone - either now or in the future. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is almost impossible to put back in. I use Facebook for some things, but not to give the entire world a big glimpse into my personal life. I don't use my real name, which helps with keeping some things private and also cuts down on random idiots I don't care about from my past tracking me down. I also do not have any of my co-workers as FB friends, and don't allow family members I am not close with access to all of my info. This way I hardly ever expose information I don't want to people I don't want seeing it.
  • by lul_wat ( 1623489 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:22PM (#33895844)
    K Dawson.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:22PM (#33895848)
    You'd have to be pretty trusting to rely on a third party's discretion that way. If I went up to the average person in the street and told them they could use my house for any private conversations they wanted to have, and that while I would be present, I'd keep their info secret, they'd be pretty gullible to believe me - yet they'll gladly accept the same offer from some guy on the internet, even though it's probably easier for him to abuse the situation because everything they say is already neatly packaged in a nice digital format.
  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:46PM (#33896336)

    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.

    But it's also a function of discretion on the user's part. You protect your privacy by having translucent bathroom windows and curtains, doctor-patient priviledge, and discretion to not talk about it.

    Online, there is no privacy unless you take action. Relying on a third-party for that action isn't action (i.e., relying on Facebook to keep your "private" actions isn't). Posting on facebook may appear more secure than sending an email, but it really isn't, and you're just relying on someone else to assume they won't use your information for their benefit. If you want to be private, you encrypt your email. With facebook, it's harder, but youc an still encrypt your posts before you post it. Relying on facebook's privacy settings is like assuming your company's IT admins can't read your email.

    Or think about it this way - why has "email DRM" failed? Friends repost, retwit, resend etc. all the time. Your plans for the weekend might just get into the government's hands due to indiscretions by your friends. Once it's posted out there, it's best to consider it out in the wild for anyone to see.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:58PM (#33896594)

    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.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:02PM (#33896682)
    No, what I'm advocating is that there are certain areas which the government can't interfere in. The problem with consensus is that people many times in the face of fear or euphoria lose logic. I'm sure that you could find a consensus on September 12th to go to war with Afghanistan but it was disastrous.

    There needs to be clear limits to what the government can and can't do, and no matter how many people agree with allowing the government to increase power, they can't.

    Plus, consensus leads to groupthink and a decline of rationality. No one wants to be the person to speak out against a plan, and a consensus can never be accurately formed with secret ballot so you have all the pitfalls of large groups of people.

    Also, consensus is too vague, either you still have the majority against the minority pitfall of plain old democracy, or you put veto power in a few individuals. While its easy to say "we've got 70 yes votes and 10 no votes" and make decisions that way, it is a lot harder to do that with a consensus. For example, if out of 100 people, you have 95 supporters and 5 dissenters who are vocal, what happens? On one hand, you have only a 5% of the people who are against it, but at the same time you have 95% of people who are supporting it. Can you really say consensus has been reached? It also allows for people to sell their vote more effectively, if there was really only one dissenter, who bought 4 people's votes, in an ordinary election it would be too expensive and too obvious to buy everyone's vote, but in a consensus it is easier.

    If rather than have a consensus for a vote, you had simply limited government so the scope of government involving that issue was eliminated, you'd have less elections and less problems.

    Consensus voting isn't exactly a bad thing, but first and foremost the government needs to be limited as to not ever encroach on the rights of others, even if it is 1,000 to one.
  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:03PM (#33896714)

    It's straight from the Reuters news wire for christ's sake, widely considered one of the less biased news sources around. I would have hoped that people on Slashdot were intelligent enough to spot bias when they see it, rather than just deciding anything connected in any with with Fox is automatically wrong and anyone speaking against Fox News is automatically right. Clearly, I was incorrect, there are at least 3 people (the author of this comment plus 2 mods) who will argue that an article is wrong because Fox News reposts it.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:04PM (#33896728) Journal

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

  • by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @01:30PM (#33897252) Journal

    Actually, a large part of our government was designed to be slow and laborious... passing laws was not something to be done easily (until someone wised up and made Senators a majority vote opposed to a State elected official ... but this is only one example)

    It's only getting worse. The populous "demands" immediate action from the government, so they get lenient to new laws and let the officials push the line. How many officials are elected on the whole "change" idea. (And no, this was not limited to Obama.) Change in government is bad and should be very carefully thought out. This shouldn't be anything you cram through the process as fast as possible.

  • 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.

  • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @03:28PM (#33899048)

    I doubt kdawson has any intelligence whatsoever.

  • by x2A ( 858210 ) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @09:20PM (#33903426)

    Absolutely. People think that facebook's customers are its users, that it's providing a service to "us". Nope, it provides a service to its advertisers, we are the resource which it offers them.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents