Feds May Send Agents Undercover On Social Networking Sites

networking MySpace

The confidential, 33-page DOJ presentation was obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights advocacy group, which made it public Tuesday. The document was prepared by the DOJ's Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are all within the DOJ.

One slide in the presentation is titled "Undercover Operations: Legal and Practical Issues." The slide included the question "Why go undercover on Facebook, MySpace, etc.?" and in bullet points suggested agents could "communicate with suspects/targets," "gain access to non-public info," and "map social relationships/networks."

Another slide entitled "Utility in Criminal Cases," stated that evidence from social networking sites can "reveal personal communications," "establish motives and personal relationships," "provide location information," "prove and disprove alibis," and "establish crime or criminal enterprise."

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Most of the document, entitled "Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites," includes profiles of leading social networking sites and examines which ones are most prominent in different geographies of the world.

The Facebook profile, for example, outlined its history and includes information on whether subscribers use real names, how data is organized, what privacy policies it follows, and whether the company is "cooperative with emergency requests."

The document also examines some of the legal issues federal agents face when assuming fake identities on social networking sites. One slide specifically refers to a court ruling in the case of Lori Drew, a Texas woman acquitted of cyber-bullying a girl who committed suicide.

The document was prepared by John Lynch, deputy chief of computer crime, and Jenny Ellickson, trial attorney, both with the DOJ Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section. The EFF obtained the document through the Freedom of Information Act.