Growing FBI Surveillance of Social Networking Sites

Photo by FBI - http://fbi.gov

Watch what you say: it’s not just your friends listening, it’s the Feds. Are you sure all your Facebook friends are who you think they are?

Undercover US law enforcement agents are creating fake online identities to follow suspects and collect private information. That’s according to an internal Justice Department document obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation in conjunction with the UC Berkeley Samuelson Clinic. You can read the Justice Department document Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites in full at the EFF site, where it was just published today, as well as see the latter’s summary of the issue. The EFF will be maintaining a set of related files as they become available in their Social Networking Monitoring section.

According to the document, the US Federal government is regularly monitoring Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter. Bizarrely, both the US Marshalls and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives failed to come up with any response to the EFF’s FOIA lawsuit. According to the EFF, “Neither organization found any documents on social networking sites in response to EFF’s request suggesting they do not have any written policies or restrictions upon the use of these websites.”

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I think the only thing worse than a Federal agency that knows it is conducting undercover surveillance on social media sites — and not telling anyone about it until forced to do so by the law — is a Federal agency that doesn’t actually have any idea what it’s doing with regard to surveillance of social media sites!

How about you? What do you think?

Should government agents pretend to be someone else in the name of collecting evidence? Does it bother you that this practice only came to light in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit? Are you sure all your Facebook friends are who they say they are? Yes, I guess my biases are showing through with all those ‘leading’ questions. I’m happy to be challenged: I appreciate that many folks are happy to sacrifice a significant degree of civil liberties in exchange for enhanced security. Is this what that is?

Let us know in the comments!

And don’t forget: although we recently poked fun at the psychology of social networking (see “Understanding the Psychology of Social Networking”), we’ve also recently joined the 400 million other Facebook users out there, so you can now get our updates via Facebook.

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