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Social networking sites as evidence: Like it or not, your government IS spying on you

The right to privacy really isn’t a right, especially online, and even more especially if you’re expecting it to be true on social networks.

While we’ve known this, it has now been confirmed through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation

In response to that request, the Department of Justice has just released a document that indicates (either directly or indirectly through looking at the markups in the document and imagining where they could take this) that:

  • The U.S. government is very aware of and actively using social media to
    • Track personal communications
    • Establish motives and personal relationships
    • Identify where you were at the moment of posting
    • Prove and disprove alibis
    • Gain evidence of criminal activities both from people claiming to have committed crimes and showing off the proceeds from that crime
  • Facebook is much more co-operative with law enforcement than MySpace or Twitter
  • Social network-posted pictures are being used to create image profiles for people (probably databased to enable easy identification of people from crime-scene and surveillance photos. Think about it, if you wanted to create a database of pictures of people, tying it to their names, and potentially getting multiple pictures of each person to show different profiles, maybe even height and weight indicators, what better place to get it than to grab the entire Facebook photo file? Supplement that with Flickr and MySpace, and you’ve just saved the taxpayers billions! And the pictures are lots better than passport and driver’s license photos!))
  • MySpace has a long history of “child safety concerns”
  • Law enforcement is actively using fake identities to go undercover, friending people so they can see and participate in conversations
  • Ironically, one of the ways they convict criminals is on charges of using fake identities, so they are doing the very thing they are convicting people for doing
  • The U.S. Government is questioning whether social networking is equivalent to publicly broadcasting information, determining the rights to use that information in court. Also, they’re questioning whether violation of a site’s terms of service is “otherwise illegal activity” and whether it is appropriate for prosecutors to friend judges
  • Government is actively investigating witnesses using social media telling prosecutors to “research all witnesses on social-networking sites”

Given all of the above, what ramifications does this have for us as users of social media?

  1. If you do the crime, shut yer trap
    I realize that if you’re smart enough to read this you’re smart enough not to do the crime, but, I still had to say it. 

    Actually, as a law-abiding citizen who really wants criminals to be locked up, I’m going to say exactly the opposite:

    If you do the crime, please tell us all about it, and make sure you post pictures taken at the crime scene, and while you’re at it, be sure you post pictures of yourself holding the stolen property before you fence it off to others. And, make sure you list your occupation as “drug kingpin” while you’re at it. Please!

  2. Even if it’s not criminal, if it’s stupid, it doesn’t belong on social media, as it can affect you for years
    Whether or not you end up as the star witness for a national trial or just want to change a piece of the world by running for school board in 20 years, pictures of you doing shots in compromising situations, blogs titled “the drunken ramblings of ____,”and joking comments about illegal/immoral activities will eventually hurt you. Don’t put them up yourself and don’t allow your friends to post them about you. Better yet, be boring, and stay safe by not doing  them in the first place!
  3. Don’t ever cover anything up – the data’s too easy to obtain
  4. Don’t violate any site’s Terms Of Service
    Doing so may actually turn into a criminal offense someday and you may be convicted for something that seemed like no big deal back when you originally set up your profile, then forgot about it later on.

In other words, this goes back to one of Don’s Laws

Don’t be stupid

Enough said?

Want to see the actual PDF from the government?

Agree, disagree? Want to fight for your right to brag about doing stupid things? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

Don Crowther
 

Don Crowther is a leading marketing, business strategy and online marketing expert. He helps companies ranging from Fortune-500-level giants to entrepreneurs make more money online using proven strategic and marketing techniques.

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