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Government Agencies Use Social Sites for Investigations

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Center filed suit yesterday in California’s Northern District, requesting that the court force a number of government agencies to release any documents they may have concerning the use of social networking sites as part of their investigative procedures. The two groups had previously sent a number of Freedom of Information Act requests to the branches of a half-dozen federal agencies starting in early October. But all they have received in return is an acknowledgement that the requests were received by one agency, the IRS, who proceeded to request a 10-day extension. Since the FOIA requires that a response be made within 20 days, the suit ultimately requests that a legal order be issued for the release of the desired information.The requests went out to everyone from the IRS to the Navy, cosolidating matters by naming parent agencies such as the Department of Defense and Homeland Security.

The EFF and Samuelson Center point to news reports in sources such as the Associated Press, Wired, and The New York Times, which haveĀ  all run stories indicating that federal authorities have used social sites to pursue investigations. These reports make it clear that federal investigators have grasped the value of cyberstalking when it comes to getting information about a person of interest. The groups behind the suit don’t necessarily have a problem with that practice, recognizing that it is done “often for laudable reasons.” They’re intention is to find out if there are any procedures in place to limit its abuse and, if so, what they are.

Realistically, chances are slim that the groups targeted by the FOIA requests have actually put formal policies in place which cover the use of online information. If that is the case, the suit may serve as a healthy reminder that trolling these sites for information has significant privacy implications which are always dealt with best using some kind of official policy. Courtesy of arstechnica.com

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