FBI, Feds collect Facebook, social media data; Why are you surprised?

Summary:The Feds have training courses on gathering information on social networks, identifying relationships, chasing the bad guys and going undercover, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The biggest surprise: That this would surprise anyone.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service have training courses on gathering information on social networks, identifying relationships, chasing the bad guys and going undercover, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The biggest surprise: Social networking users are surprised by any of this government activity.

Looking at the headlines about the government's documents on how to use social networking and it's surprising that anyone thinks this is a big deal. Undercover Feds on Facebook? Gasp! IRS using social networking to piece together a few facts that illustrate you lied about your taxes? Oooh.

Give me a break. Why wouldn't the Feds use these tools? They'd be idiots if they didn't. Repeat after me:

  • Privacy is a bit of a joke online and you willingly give it up.
  • People share everything on social networks (lunch, vacation plans, whereabouts, drivel no one cares about).
  • This information is increasingly public.

Let's face it; folks are broadcasting everything from the breakfast they eat to their bowel movements to when and where they are on vacation. They use services that track every movement they make (willingly!) on Foursquare and Google Latitude. Why wouldn't an FBI agent chasing a perp get into some idiot's network so he can track him everywhere? It's called efficiency people.

I'm only being slightly facetious here, but it is comical when people that give up their privacy daily get squeamish when the Feds play along.

Let's consider the following scenario. You tell the IRS you made $20,000. Yet on your Facebook and Twitter all you do is yap about the new Ferrari you bought, your mansion and how great life is when you're independently wealthy. Why wouldn't some IRS inspector be interested? Perhaps the FBI should look into your potential drug money paying for all of this. But whose fault is it really? You're the tool broadcasting all of this stuff on a social network. Mobsters, bookies and anyone else that may be of interest to the Feds used to live in generic houses so they didn't draw attention to themselves. Where's the criminal modesty?

Today, everyone is on a social network looking for 3 minutes of fame. Anyone can track you. And that someone could be far worse than the FBI and IRS.

It's all free game.

In fact, I'd be more alarmed if the Feds weren't using these social networking tools. Can you imagine the headlines when there's another terrorist attack and the FBI couldn't track down the perps because they couldn't figure out how to friend someone on Facebook?

A few money slides from the EFF docs, which everyone should read.

Notice that last point above---the one that few actually follow.

Topics: Collaboration, Government, Government : US, Networking, Social Enterprise

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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