The FBI recently reported that it has been using social networking sites to search for evidence and witnesses in criminal cases, as well as track suspects in some cases. The agency has been using such sites as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter to perform these tasks.
Some FBI agents have created fake personalities – which is technically against some social networking sites’ rules – in order to “friend” suspects and persuade them to reveal clues or confess. This also allows agents to access private information about certain suspects.
San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal advocacy group, obtained a document from the Department of Justice detailing this information. The document consists of a 33-page slideshow obtained in a lawsuit EFF filed against the DOJ in order to find information on its social networking policies.
“Law enforcement agencies have long used Internet chatrooms to lure child pornography traffickers and suspected sex predators and with a warrant, can seize suspects and defendants’ e-mail records,” Daniel Nasaw notes in a Guardian article. “But Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites provide a wealth of additional information, in photographs, status updates and friend lists. In many cases, the information is publicly accessible.”
One section of the document, entitled “Utility in Criminal Cases,” specifies that agents can scan suspects’ profiles to establish motives, determine a person’s location and tap into personal communication such as Facebook status updates.
In addition, agents are given permission to examine photographs for guns, jewelry and other evidence of participation in robbery or burglary. They also can compare information on Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds with alibis, as well as search friend lists for witnesses or informants.