EFF warns Big Brother wants to be your friend


Looking to expand your social network? Big Brother wants to be your buddy. Yes, the gang of three or four letter national intelligence agencies are all out there. How many of your "friends" do you really know? How members do you "know" in those Facebook groups? Did you see a video that you really liked on YouTube and then subscribed? Are there so many friends, subscriptions, groups, photos, comments or tweets that is it hard to immediately recall all? Never fear cause the government knows and has clickable maps of social networks to include all friends, followers, and subscriptions. Mapping helps law enforcement obtain more information from "friends" and business associations.

Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the EFF requested documents on the use of social network surveillance from various law enforcement agencies.  Some government agencies endorse using security exploits to access protected information. Security exploits were not the only covert practice endorsed in the government's disclosures. For example, DEA documents (PDF) mention the ability to potentially "recover ‘private' content only shared among those chosen by the page owner." In another document, the FBI Intelligence Information Report Handbook (PDF), mentions using "covert accounts" to access protected information.

Recently, the EFF heard back from the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS). And if you know someone that wants to apply for citizenship, then oh yes, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and DHS (PDF) want to be their "friend." The EFF stated, "the citizenship verification initiative is perhaps the most disconcerting, both for its assumptions about people who use social networking sites and for its potentially deceptive and unethical approach to collecting information."

According to the USCIS documents, its agents will attempt to "friend" you and monitor for evidence of possible fraud.

"Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of 'friends' link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don't even know. This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities. Generally, people on these sites speak honestly in their network because all of their friends and family are interacting with them via lM's (Instant Messages), Blogs (Weblog journals), etc. This social networking gives FDNS an opportunity to reveal fraud by browsing these sites to see if petitioners and beneficiaries are in a valid relationship or are attempting to deceive [United States Citizen and Immigration Services] about their relationship. Once a user posts online, they create a public record and timeline of their activities. In essence, using MySpace and other like sites is akin to doing an unannounced cyber "site-visit" on a [sic] petitioners and beneficiaries."

The CIA social networking documents (PDF) revealed that the CIA likes to monitor YouTube for online intelligence. The CIA's Open Source Center also collects information from blogs, chat rooms, social networking sites, radio and television programs. DHS released a slide presentation (PDF) about monitoring social networks before the 2009 Inauguration. The Secret Service Internet Use Policy (PDF) recommends that agents avoid leaving "electronic footprints" and to use "stand-alone" computers with "anonymous accounts from an ISP" during surveillance.

According to EFF, "The DEA presentation also appears to condone the use of security exploits to collect information, including MySpace Private Picture Viewer, a website tool that was once able to access private information on MySpace and arguably violated MySpace's Terms of Service." The DEA (PDF) monitors for fugitives and known associates. 

In another FBI document (PDF), FBI emails showed an interest in the University of Arizona's Dark Web Project. EFF reported that the Dark Web Project is an attempt to send spiders to search all forums and find all hidden websites in the "corners of the Internet" and to "systematically collect and analyze all terrorist-generated content on the Web."

Other released documents on social networking policies came from the Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (PDF). The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released an old 2008 study on the potential of Internet searches in government security clearances (PDF). The EFF has several policies (PDF), manual excerpts (PDF) and "Internet Research Tools" (PDF) that were released by the IRS.

Most all government agencies spy on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and so many other online social media sites. If government intelligence agents are not yet one of your social networking friends, they would like to be. But be careful what you post, cause law enforcement is watching, listening, recording, linking, mapping and social engineering. You can be careful, but if a friend of friend comments unwisely, you too might end up with a "borrowed" government issued GPS tracking device spying on you.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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