The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Berkeley's Samuelson Clinic have sued the Department of Justice and five other government organizations for cloaking their policies for using Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to investigate citizens in criminal and other matters. The groups want to know exactly how and what kinds of info feds are accessing from users' social networking profiles. The suit also comes as Congress is considering legislation that may increase protections for consumers who use social networking sites.
Privacy watchdogs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation have sued the
Department of Justice and five other government organizations for cloaking
their policies for using Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to
investigate citizens in criminal and other matters.
On behalf of the EFF, Berkeley Law
School's Samuelson Clinic filed
suit against the agencies Dec. 1, claiming that it made more than one dozen
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get the government agencies to
reveal how they use social networking sites for investigations. Defendants in
the suit include the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security,
Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Treasury and Office of the Director
of National Intelligence.
The Samuelson Clinic filed its suit after the defendants failed to respond
to the FOIA requests. In their suit
, the clinic and the EFF pointed
to three October 2009 news reports that
chronicle the government's use of social networking data as evidence in several
During the investigation into the distribution of millions of pages of court
documents obtained from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER)
system, FBI agents researched the social networking activities of Aaron Swartz,
a computer programmer and activist, including his Facebook and LinkedIn
profiles, according to this Oct. 5
In a separate case the, the FBI, which falls under the purview of the DOJ,
also searched the house of social worker Elliot Madison because of Twitter
messages he sent during the G-20 summit notifying protesters of police
movements, according to this Oct. 5
in the New York Times.
The New York Daily News Nov. 29 published
a piece on how law enforcement officials
peruse Twitter to monitor gang activity in New York City.
While it is clear where law enforcement officials are getting this
information-Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are popular channels for
communication-the EFF and Samuelson Clinic want to know exactly how and what
kinds of info feds are accessing from users' social networking profiles. The
watchdogs, for example, want to know what the protocols are for using fake
identities to dupe users into accepting an official as a friend.
"Although the Federal Government clearly uses social networking
Websites to collect information, often for laudable reasons, it has not
clarified the scope of its use of social-networking websites or disclosed what
restrictions and oversight is in place to prevent abuse," the groups said
in the suit.
Shane Witnov, a law student working on the case through the Samuelson
Clinic, said Internet users deserve to know what information is collected,
under what circumstances, and who has access to it. "These agencies need
to abide by the law and release their records on social networking
The lawsuit demands immediate processing and release of all records
concerning policies for the use of social networking sites in government
investigations. The suit also comes as Congress is considering legislation that
may increase protections for consumers who use social networking sites.
Social networks are hardly the only places to mine valuable data. A security
that Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies
with its customers' (GPS) location
information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009.