The Associated Press reports on an issue I’ve discussed before: how postings at social-networking sites can get people in trouble with law enforcement. I have written about how data from social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, are being used in criminal trials, against applicants for jobs and employees, and against applicants to colleges and graduate schools. Now, AP reports:
Law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, even going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that surfaced in a lawsuit.
The document shows that U.S. agents are logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target’s friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs and video clips.
Among the purposes: Investigators can check suspects’ alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree — people posing with jewelry, guns or fancy cars — can link suspects or their friends to crime. […]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, obtained the 33-page document when it sued the Justice Department and five other agencies in federal court. […]
The document, part of a presentation given in August by cybercrime officials, describes the value of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and other services to investigators. It does not describe in detail the boundaries for using them. […]
The Justice document describes how Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have interacted with federal investigators: Facebook is “often cooperative with emergency requests,” the government said. MySpace preserves information about its users indefinitely and even stores data from deleted accounts for one year. But Twitter’s lawyers tell prosecutors they need a warrant or subpoena before the company turns over customer information, the document says.