Obama’s Feds trawl Facebook for criminal leads

Were you worried about the Bush administration slowly eroding personal freedom? 

Well, Obama’s Feds are reportedly trawling social networking sites such as Facebook in a disturbing effort to monitor suspicious and criminal behavior.

Indeed, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has posted a number of documents that reveal how various law enforcement agencies exploit social networking sites to assist with “investigations.”

The records, obtained from the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Justice Criminal Division, are the first in a series of documents that will be released through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case filed with the help of the UC Berkeley Samuelson Clinic.

According to Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann, one of the most “interesting” files is a 2009 training course which describes how IRS employees may use various Internet tools – including social networking sites and Google Street View – 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,” said Hoffman.

“[However], the good example set by the IRS is in stark contrast to the US 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.”

Hoffman added that the EFF has also managed to obtain a Justice Department presentation entitled “Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites.”

“The slides, which were prepared by two lawyers from the agency’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, detail several social media companies’ data retention practices and responses to law enforcement requests.

“The presentation notes that Facebook was ‘often cooperative with emergency requests’ while complaining about Twitter’s short data retention policies and refusal to preserve data without legal process. The presentation also touches on use of social media for undercover operations.”