US federal agencies are receiving warrants for detailed access to people’s Facebook accounts without their knowledge.
Reuters reported that within the last 3 years, federal judges have authorized at least 25 warrants to search people’s Facebook accounts to different agencies, including the FBI, DEA and ICE, during investigations ranging from arson to terrorism.
Facebook provides the authorities with a detailed package of profile and photo data which isn’t even available to users themselves. Now, it seems that the police are getting so addicted to the amount of useful information they are able to receive from those profiles, that the coppers are hitting the courts for more and more warrants. So far, the federal agencies have been granted at least 11 warrants to search Facebook profiles since the beginning of 2011, which is double the number for all of the last year. Moreover, this figure may be much higher as some of the records are sealed.
Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer for Facebook, pointed out that Facebook was very sensitive to user privacy, regularly trying to push back against the “fishing expeditions” of the police. However, the industry observers found out that none of those provided warrants have been challenged on the grounds that it infringed people's Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure. The reason for that is simple – neither defendants nor their “friends” knew about those warrants, because neither Facebook nor the authorities is obliged to notify users whose accounts are subject to a search by law enforcement.
However, Twitter and a number of other social networking services have officially adopted a policy stipulating their obligation to inform users when the police ask to search their profile, and those websites have been successful at challenging gag orders. On the contrary, Facebook appears to be not caring about these things – at least, in 2 recent cases information wasn’t passed on for sure. Back in 2010, after police had arrested 4 people for burning down a church in Ohio, FBI executed a search warrant on Facebook searching for information about two of the suspects, whose lawyers were unaware of the search. Another case, where the DEA searched the Facebook account of a Hollywood shrink running a “pill mill” for celebs, proved that the defendant wasn’t notified about the source of the evidence but told the information was from “an undercover source”.