U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.
Think you know who's behind that "friend" request? Think again. Your new "friend" just might be the FBI.
The document, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, makes clear that U.S. agents are already logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target's friends or relatives and browse private information such as postings, personal photographs and video clips.
Among other purposes: Investigators can check suspects' alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree — people posing with jewelry, guns or fancy cars — can link suspects or their friends to robberies or burglaries.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, obtained the Justice Department document when it sued the agency and five others in federal court. The 33-page document underscores the importance of social networking sites to U.S. authorities. The foundation said it would publish the document on its Web site on Tuesday.