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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Facebook Warrants By Law Enforcement Agencies Surge

Facebook Warrants By Law Enforcement Agencies Surge

by Ruth Manuel-Logan

Requests for warrants to investigate the Facebook accounts of known suspects is surging.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration and other such agencies often gain access to the social networking accounts with the user’s knowledge.

The cases typically range from acts of terrorism, to rape and even arson. Law enforcement will generally scour the accounts, delving into everything from friend’s lists, calendars, events, posting updates, links, videos, photos and will even look back at rejected friend requests. Under U.S. laws, neither Facebook nor the government has to inform a user when an account is being searched by law officials.

According to Reuters, at least two dozen warrants have been granted by federal judges to search the Facebook accounts of suspects. In addition, another 11 warrants have been authorized by federal agencies this year alone, nearly double that for 2010.

Not one of the warrants have been challenged regarding violating a person’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure. The exact number of warrants served on Facebook is not easy to figure out because a few records are sealed, and warrant applications oftentimes involve case names that are not typical according to Reuters.

In a telephone interview with Reuters, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan, did not disclose the number of warrants that had been served on the company. He said Facebook is mindful of user privacy and that it does not openly welcome law-enforcement “fishing expeditions.”

The Facebook search warrants typically demand a user’s “neoprint” and “photoprint,” Facebook terms for profile and photo information that are unavailable to account holders — these words appear in manuals for law enforcement agencies on how to request data from Facebook. The manuals, which are said to be posted on various public-advocacy websites, according to Reuters, appear to have been prepared by Facebook, although a spokesman for the company declined to confirm their authenticity.

Reportedly, Twitter and some other social networking sites have adopted policies to contact customers when their accounts are being investigated with regards to legal matters.

Readers, what do you think about the surge in law enforcement requests to search Facebook users accounts?

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