Yesterday brought yet more proof that putting all your personal eggs into a social network basket may not be such a hot idea, especially if you (or your friends) stumble into the crosshairs of law enforcement.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation released documents it acquired via a Freedom of Information Act request about federal activity on social networks. Among them: a Department of Justice presentation on how to use Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on to gather intel on suspects and witnesses, friendly or otherwise.
(My theory: They finally heard about Mafia Wars on Facebook and decided to take a closer look.)
The document implies cops are going undercover -- using false identities to befriend suspects and learn more about them -- which violates the terms of service for most of these networks. (You never lie on your Facebook profile, do you?)
The arguments given for going undercover: "communicate with suspects/targets; gain access to nonpublic info; map social relationships/networks."
So if the feds are investigating one of your Facebook/MySpace/Twitter buddies, they could very well be investigating you. And if they're adding you to that "social map," what about your friends? At what point does the map stop? Does it even have borders?
Another key question: If an agent violates a service's TOS, is the evidence he or she gathers admissible in court? The documents ask this question; unfortunately, they don't answer it, nor do they explicitly state anyone is doing this.
Still, you gotta figure they are. Cops have been infiltrating "suspicious" organizations for years, mostly with good intent, sometimes with a political agenda attached. It's natural to assume they'd do it in the virtual world, but in the past you had to be an active member of such an org to fall under suspicion; now all you need to do is say yes to the wrong friend request.
I know what some of you are saying: "I never use Facebook/Twitter etc, so I'm not worried." But not using these things is not an option for many of us; that's like saying "I never use a phone because it might be tapped." (By the way, it probably is -- at least, the data stream.) It's also a little like saying, "I only use a typewriter because computers are the devil's spawn."
The only logical response is to be a lot less cavalier about the information you share and with whom you share it. So let's just say it: The social networking honeymoon is officially over. Time to get a lot more serious about what we do and don't do online.
Is privacy worth fighting for? What do you do to protect yourself online? Weigh in below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then hoist a brew for me -- it is St. Patty's day, after all.