Federal Agents May Go Undercover on Facebook

Facebook cited for being more responsive to "emergency" requests for information than Twitter

By Jackson West
|  Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010  |  Updated 7:00 AM EDT
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Eric Holder's Justice Department recommends law enforcement officials go undercover on social networks to gather evidence against suspects.

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A Department of Justice presentation obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation shows that law enforcement officials, from local agencies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have been logging on under assumed identities to social networks like Facebook in order to gather information about suspects.

Cops use the services to get past privacy controls that keep information among friends online in order to gather evidence of location, criminal enterprises, social associations and to prove or disprove alibis.

However, the presentation does admit that using false identities is often a violation of the terms of service on popular social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.

For instance, the Justice Department prosecuted a Missouri woman, Lori Drew, for violating MySpace's terms of service after Drew created a fake myspace account to bully a young woman who eventually committed suicide.

The presentation also reveals that while Twitter demands authorities go through legal hoops to obtain private communications by the site's users, Facebook -- which says it takes privacy very seriously -- "often cooperative with emergency requests."

Requests by the EFF for documents about written policies for using social networks in investigations didn't turn any up, suggesting that agencies like the FBI are just making it up as they go along.

Jackson West figured Facebook happily turns over data to the feds upon request.

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