Friday, March 19, 2010

Social Networking Sites and Law Enforcement

Regular readers of this site are familiar with my thoughts on social networking sites - their limited benefits, and more important, the significant risks they introduce as people struggle to understand how much sharing is too much.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (full disclosure: I'm a member of EFF) has released documents detailing how law enforcement is mining data from social networking sites for them to use during their investigations.

Not only are agencies using this freely-available information, but formal training is occurring to teach investigators how to better use the tools that exist on the Internet.

It's not only the things that you share that could trip you up or provide critical investigative elements. Your online "friends" could post things about you - items that you might never post yourself - and agencies could piece together these nuggets in an attempt to get a better overall view of your activities, behaviors, and lifestyle.

No worries though, right? The government has no history of over-reaching or misusing intelligence data, either foreign or domestic.

Due to the potential for misuse and abuse, training that includes clearly-articulated codes of conduct requirements for social networking investigations should be mandatory. Can an investigator set up a fake profile or misrepresent themselves in the quest to obtain information? What sort of evidence would be considered acceptable? These are just two specific areas that need to be considered and monitored for violations.

As a new generation of Internet users moves online with a completely different attitude about sharing their lives as they unfold, it will become much easier to build huge repositories of intelligence that can be mined by investigative agencies.

It's imperative that we have an understanding what's being done, the controls in place to limit and identify misuse of social networking data, and clearly-defined policies and procedures for agencies to follow and for citizens to leverage in the event disagreements arise about allowable uses of the data collected.

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