US law enforcement agencies increasingly obtaining Facebook warrants

Facebook is increasingly being used as a search warrant tool by US law enforcement agencies according to a new report.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

US law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, DEA, and ICE, are increasingly obtaining warrants to search Facebook. Not only do they gain access to Facebook accounts, but it often occurs without the user's knowledge. Personal data obtained can include messages, status updates, links to videos and photographs, calendars of future and past events, Wall postings, and even rejected friend requests.

More specifically, a review of the Westlaw legal database shows that since 2008, federal judges have authorized at least two dozen warrants to search individuals' Facebook accounts, and federal agencies have been granted at least 11 warrants since the beginning of 2011, nearly double the number for all of 2010. None of the warrants discovered in the review have been challenged on the grounds of violating a person's Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure, possibly because the defendants – not to mention the profiles of their Facebook friends that might have been viewed as part of an investigation – never knew about them.

The precise number of warrants served on Facebook is hard to determine because some records are sealed and warrant applications often involve unusual case names, according to Reuters. At the same time, Facebook won't reveal how many warrants are served on the company.

The warrants typically demand a user's "Neoprint" and "Photoprint" from Facebook. The social network uses these terms, which appear in manuals for law enforcement agencies on how to request data from Facebook, to describe a detailed package of one's profile information and photos.

By law, neither a company nor the government is obliged to inform a user when an account is subject to a search by law enforcement. The difference is that social networks like Facebook have a huge amount of information about their users. Because of this, the government may have to change its rules one day when it comes to the search of electronic data.

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