“Marijuana” is one of about 400 “hot” keywords that are monitored by government agencies on social media. Social media monitoring is not new, but apparently some people either do not know about open-source intelligence (OSINT), or choose to disregard the list of terms in the Department of Homeland Security National Operations Center Media Monitoring Capability Desktop Reference Binder. So what might happen if you post a picture of big fat bud of pot on Instagram? Busted!
A teenage girl in Louisiana was allegedly “part of a group taking photographs of marijuana and posting them on the social media site Instagram.” The details are fairly sketchy at this point, presumably because it involves a 17-year-old minor. St. Mary Parish Sheriff's Office told WAFB that “a detective with the narcotics division saw a picture of people with marijuana on a social media site and began an investigation.” At any rate, detectives showed up at the teenager’s home and “found her to be in possession of the illegal drug. She was released on a summons to appear in court on December 11, 2013.”
KATC added that during the investigation, the detective learned the residence where the pot was located. It does not say how that was determined; perhaps the teenager did not strip the geo-tagged locational metadata from the photo? Back in 2010, the creators of I Can Stalk U tried to raise awareness about hidden metadata added to smartphone photos. If you don’t disable geotagging and post your photo online, a person is “allowing their movements to be recorded and analyzed by anyone: from a government to a nosy neighbor.”
The St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office is one of several that are part of the Gulf Coast High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area; as a side note, the parent agency is the DEA and you might recall the DEA’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program being mentioned during revelations about the Hemisphere Project.
After Andrew Hicks obtained a Hemisphere Project presentation, we learned it “covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch - not just those made by AT&T customers - and includes calls dating back 26 years.” The New York Times reported, “Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the NSA data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.”
The teenager’s arrest may have nothing to do with Hemisphere; the details are in short supply. But plenty of people are watching Instagram. Last month, cybersecurity experts at RSA said one of the latest Zeus botnet fads involved creating fake Instagram “likes.” It was the first piece of malicious software uncovered to date that has been used to post false ‘likes’ on a social network.” In fact, the RSA determined that a fake fan on Instagram was worth five times more than a stolen credit card number. “1,000 Instagram ‘followers’ can be bought for $US15 ($16.31) and 1,000 Instagram ‘likes’ go for $US30, whereas 1,000 credit card numbers cost as little as $US6.”
Instagram is widely popular. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in July that it had no immediate plans to place ads in its Instagram app, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram will begin selling ads within the next year.
A quick search on Instagram shows that photos of weed are not in short supply. There are other ways of searching Instagram, including hashtag searches on the recently relaunched Copygram. Once a photo is made public, you lose control of it. Some of those “marijuana pictures” are collected and posted elsewhere. According to HailMaryJane, the U.S. government has hundreds of slang and street terms for cannabis, so that potentially means hundreds of terms for which to search.
Metadata is a b*tch and if you forget to strip it out of your photos, then it could open the door for stalkers and cops alike. Maybe it wasn’t a result of metadata, perhaps it was her username or other clues in the pot photo that could be garnered to match faces, such as by searching Facebook. If you ever read court documents, then you know it is pretty common for law enforcement to do a little digging on Facebook during an investigation. It is so common, in fact, that people without Facebook accounts are automatically considered ‘suspicious.’
Think before you post, cause Big Brother is watching.