As law enforcement agents increase their reliance on Facebook and MySpace to nab suspects, legal watchdogs are demanding that officials disclose exactly how they use social networking sites.
In a complaint filed Tuesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued five US agencies that failed to respond to freedom-of-information requests seeking documents laying out their use of social-networking sites in investigations, data collection, and surveillance.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, comes as recent news reports show that federal authorities have stepped up their use of social-networking sites to investigate and arrest potential targets. In September, Mexican officials arrested a man suspected of bank fraud in the US after he bragged on Facebook that he was living the good life in Cancun.
The FBI also rifled through Facebook for dirt on coder Aaron Swartz after he helped an open-government activist amass a public and free copy of millions of federal court records, according to Wired.com.
Even local authorities are joining the social-networking craze. Police in La Crosse, Wisconsin, are said to have charged a university student with underage drinking. Their evidence: a picture on Facebook of him with a can of beer in his hand. Adam Bauer said he suspects he was duped by an unknown person he had accepted as a friend. (The person's friend request included a picture of an attractive woman.)
He was among at least eight people who said they had been cited for underage drinking based on photos on social-networking sites, according to The La Crosse Tribune.
The EFF said it filed the complaint after more than a dozen FOIA requests went unanswered. The agencies include the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Treasury, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
"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 complaint stated. ®