DOJ Might Be Facebook-Stalking You

EyesFacebook might be selling you out to the government.

With the help of the University of California Berkeley's Samuelson Clinic, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents from the government about how they monitor and use social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn to gather information for investigations. The EFF struck gold with this request, as both the IRS and the Department of Justice released training presentations on social networking sites. While this may seem benign, the training material from the DOJ suggests that feds go undercover on sites such as Facebook to gather information on crime.

The DOJ slide show presentation (pdf) also discusses how cooperative these social networking sites are in complying with requests for private data. For example, Facebook, a highly popular social networking site, was described as "often cooperative with emergency requests," while Twitter was less cooperative because they refused to preserve data without legal process.

The IRS also provided EFF with a 2009 training course (pdf) that teaches IRS employees how to use social networking sites and search engines like Google to investigate taxpayers. On the positive side, the IRS training manual prohibits IRS employees from using deception or creating fake social networking accounts to obtain information. 

The DOJ slideshow on sites like Facebook is more troubling. The fact that Facebook would comply with government requests for private data without legal process is disturbing, and poses a threat to the privacy of American citizens. While the request must be an "emergency," the DOJ slideshow fails to define exactly what constitutes an "emergency request." Privacy settings on Facebook may protect users' privacy from companies and employers, but it appears to be no match for the government. More documents on monitoring social networking sites are to follow on EFF's website. 


The author listed as "PRwatch Editors" is for reports attributable to CMD's editors or guest authors.


Wow, that actually happens? It's a good thing I don't use facebook much then. I don't like the idea of being stalked even if it is presented as for the good of society.

That is very severe post. I'd rather agree with that but the fact is also is big contribution in term of communications right?

I work at an internet company which provides services that criminals try to use to promote human trafficking, sell child porn, and other acts which hurt innocent people. We have entire teams dedicated to search for this activity and we report incidents to the government. If we didn't more people could get hurt. I'm also a member of an online French Horn discussion group. The moderator works only part time. We had a “teen” start posting sexual innuendos and asking for personal “lessons” from some adult. The moderator worked hard to purge the comments and block this teen's Id only to have the "teen" open a new id and go back to the same behavior. The group was at risk of being shut down by the service provider due to this activity. In desperation the moderator went to the Attorney General's office to track down this “teen.” It turned out this “Teen” was a cop trying to entice people into breaking the law. There is nothing wrong with a cop using a phony persona to monitor a group where some suspicious activities have been reported. What's wrong is for the cop to try to entice people into illegal activities. Even when the group lacks people susceptible to the enticement, the activity and rumors harms the reputation of the entire group and could deter people from participating in it.

It makes me sick to my stomach to know people will do anything to get someone out of the way. I couln't live with that guilt. it is a shame and just plain wrong. Can anyone make it right? I refuse to lose my faith.