The Feds See Social Networking as an Opportunity to Go Undercover
Article by George Norman
On 18 Mar 2010
People love to stay in touch with one another and for that reason social networking sites are huge nowadays – some more than others. Facebook for example has more than 400 million registered users; 100 million users actively use Facebook on their mobile device while on the go. Furthermore, Facebook has recently managed to surpass Google’s search engine as the most visited site on the web in the United States.

When something becomes hugely popular, they draw attention to themselves – from the bad guys as well as the good guys. The bad guys for example are running a spam campaign that tricks Facebook users into thinking their password has been changed – the email invites users to download an attachment under the claims that it is the new password. It is in fact a password stealer.


The good guys are also taking heed to the social networking phenomenon. Federal law enforcement agencies are considering placing undercover agents on social networking sites, including Facebook, for data gathering purposes. This information has come to light via the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) who obtained records form the IRS and Department of Justice Criminal Division through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case filed by the EFF with the help of the UC Berkeley Samuelson Clinic.

Amongst those records there’s a presentation that says undercover agents can use social networking to communicate with suspects, gain access to nonpublic info and map social relationships.

And a training course describes how IRS employees can use social networking sites to investigate taxpayers. “The IRS should be commended for its detailed training that clearly prohibits employees from using deception or fake social networking accounts to obtain information. Its policies generally limit employees to using publicly available information. The good example set by the IRS is in stark contrast to the U.S. Marshalls and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 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,” commented Marcia Hofmann, EFF senior staff attorney working on government transparency, civil liberties, and intellectual property issues.

Tags: Social networking, EFF, Electronic Frontie Foundation, FAcebook , Department of Justice
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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The Feds See Social Networking as an Opportunity to Go Undercover
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