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Tag: MySpace

Fed Agents Going Undercover on Social Networks like Facebook

istock illustration

istock illustration

By Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — A Justice Department document asks the simple question: Why Go Undercover on Facebook, MySpace, etc.?

Then it goes on to explain: “Communicate with suspects/targets” … “gain access to non-public info” … “map social relationships/networks.”

The document, part of a Justice Department PowerPoint presentation, shows how some federal and local law enforcement agents are quietly creating fictitious accounts on social networks like Facebook and MySpace to get dirt on suspected criminals. The presentation recently surfaced in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court.

Some federal and local law enforcement agents are quietly creating fictitious accounts on social networks like Facebook and MySpace to get dirt on suspected criminals

“This is just the way people meet these days — electronically,” James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told AOL News. “It wouldn’t be any different than calling someone on the phone, say, in an undercover capacity. If we can meet them on Facebook by creating a fictitious account, that’s great. ”

Even so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco filed the lawsuit in December against about a half a dozen federal agencies to create a public dialogue on the matter and make sure agencies have guidelines for agents, according to Marcia Hofmann, a senior staff attorney for the foundation. The Justice Department, Homeland Security, Treasury, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are included in the suit.

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Some agencies don’t readily appear to have guidelines and some have offered to produce them in coming months to satisfy the demands in the lawsuit, according to Hofmann.

“This on one hand is a very clever use of these tools, but it makes you wonder when enterprising agents come up with these ideas, what is appropriate and what is not,” she said. “I don’t want to speculate as to what they do and they don’t do. I do think there should be a public debate whether it’s ethically sound or not. There should be some transparency.”

Initially, social networks like MySpace, which first surfaced in 2003, and Facebook, which launched in 2004, and Twitter which arrived in 2006, were simply for hip high school and college-aged kids. As social media’s popularity soared, law enforcement began to realize that there was more to these networks than idle gossip and photos of cats, dogs, proms and beer parties.

Now, some federal agents privately talk, almost in amazement, about how much information is available on social networks and how careless criminals are. They say some information can be obtained without even going undercover.

In fact, they say some criminals — and noncriminals as well — fail to select the right security settings to block non-friends from seeing photos and other personal information on sites like Facebook. And besides, anyone can see a person’s friend list without “friending” the person.

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“It’s not like we have to dig very deep,” said one federal agent who has not created fictitious accounts but knows of others who have. “Facebook is the best. They videotape themselves. They have pictures with guns, posing with gang members. There’s addresses of homes. We tend to go after what’s there.”

Another federal agent says he’s amazed how freely some criminals post information on social networks.

“I’m surprised by the recklessness of it,” the agent said. “I would think they would be smarter. That’s why we only catch the stupid ones. ”

Still, even before the recent documents surfaced publicly about fictitious accounts, some federal law enforcement agencies readily admitted to being aware of criminals using the social networks.

On Jan. 27, for example, the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles issued a press release about the indictment of 20 suspected members of the Riverside Street Gang with ties to the Mexican Mafia. The release noted that the members use “MySpace.com to communicate about gang business, and they use rap music videos and recordings to deliver a message of violence and intimidation.”

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DEA Agent Sarah Pullen of the Los Angeles office said of the probe, “Any time you have visual evidence that is available, it is extremely helpful in conducting an investigation. It would be the same as a piece of mail or a photo; anything that shows evidence of a crime.”

In Washington, federal law enforcement agencies have responded to the issue of agents creating fictitious undercover accounts with carefully worded responses.

“The Department of Justice and our agents follow applicable laws, regulations and internal guidelines for investigations, regardless of whether those investigations occur online or on the street,” Laura Sweeney, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement to AOL News.

“Just as we’ve done successfully in identifying and prosecuting child predators online, we will continue to use publicly available information individuals post online about their illegal activities, or false statements to law enforcement officials, in our investigations. To do otherwise would be negligence on our part,” Sweeney said.

Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman, noted, “Simply said, law enforcement needs to be able to constantly adapt to the changing world around them while maintaining its ability to use all lawful and available tools at its disposal to gather potential leads to solve crimes.”

Interestingly, the Internal Revenue Service provided a document in the San Francisco lawsuit that states employee guidelines for the Internet. “You cannot obtain information from websites by registering … fictitious identities,” the document said.

“I think it’s interesting the IRS has drawn the line, and the Justice Department has not,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Hofmann said.

There has been limited public outcry about the prospects of agents creating undercover accounts since the Justice Department document surfaced.

But Hofmann mentioned the La Crosse, Wis., police department, which reportedly created a fake Facebook page using an attractive, blond-haired woman to lure students and find out about underage drinking. The department did not return a call for comment.

The La Crosse Tribune reported in November that Adam Bauer, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse sophomore, had nearly 400 friends on Facebook and added the attractive woman. Shortly after, police had Facebook photos of him drinking, and he was fined $227.

After his court appearance in November, Bauer told the paper, “I just can’t believe it. I feel like I’m in a science fiction movie, like they are always watching. When does it end?”

Your Facebook Friend Could Be an Undercover Fed

facebook-logoBy Allan Lengel
For AOL News

WASHINGTON — A Justice Department document asks the simple question: Why Go Undercover on Facebook, MySpace, etc.?

Then it goes on to explain: “Communicate with suspects/targets” … “gain access to non-public info” … “map social relationships/networks.”

The document, part of a Justice Department PowerPoint presentation, demonstrates how some federal and local law enforcement agents are quietly creating fictitious accounts on social networks like Facebook and MySpace to get dirt on suspected criminals. The presentation recently surfaced in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court.

Some federal and local law enforcement agents are quietly creating fictitious accounts on social networks like Facebook and MySpace to get dirt on suspected criminals

“This is just the way people meet these days — electronically,” James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Nashville office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told AOL News. “It wouldn’t be any different than calling someone on the phone, say, in an undercover capacity. If we can meet them on Facebook by creating a fictitious account, that’s great. ”

Even so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco filed the lawsuit in December against about a half a dozen federal agencies to create a public dialogue on the matter and make sure agencies have guidelines for agents, according to Marcia Hofmann, a senior staff attorney for the foundation. The Justice Department, Homeland Security, Treasury, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are included in the suit.

For Full Story

Cyber-Bully Mom Off the Hook in MySpace Suicide Case

myspace-images3By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It looks like cyber-bully mom Lori Drew has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

The Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed notice in court that it does not plan to pursue an appeal in her case. She was charged with computer fraud and Abuse Act after she created a fake MySpace account to harass a teenage girl who committed suicide, WIRED’s Threat Level website reported.

Drew was convicted in L.A. last November, but a federal judge acquitted her in July.

“We have a notice with the 9th Circuit that we are withdrawing our notice of appeal in the case,” a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles wrote in an e-mail to Threat Level.

The case raised all kinds of Constitutional questions. In the end, the law governing the Internet remains murky.

Prosecutors charged Drew under a federal hacking law, but U.S. District Judge George Wu ruled that the government’s interpretation was, in the end, unconstitutional and would have opened up the gates for more questionable prosecutions.

Background on the MySpace Case

Fed Judge Dismisses MySpace Conviction of Missouri Mom in Teen Suicide Case

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The judge decided the conviction could not stand. Yes, what she did was profoundly stupid and inexcusable, but criminal?  The Justice Department thought so. But apparently the judge did not.  The law for the Internet remains unclear after all this time.

By Alexendra Zavis
Los Angles Times
LOS ANGELES — A federal judge tentatively decided today to dismiss the case against a Missouri woman who had been convicted of computer fraud stemming from an Internet hoax that prompted a teenage girl to commit suicide.

Lori Drew of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., was convicted in November of three misdemeanor counts of illegally accessing a protected computer.

The decision by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu will not become final until his written ruling is filed, probably next week. Wu said he was concerned that if Drew was found guilty of violating the terms of service in using MySpace, anyone who violated the terms could be convicted of a crime.

Drew 50, was to be sentenced in May but Wu had delayed the sentencing until today, saying he wanted to consider the defense motion to dismiss the entire case.

For Full Story

Crime: The Good and Bad About Social Networking Sites Like Facebook and MySpace

facebook1Bank Robber Discovers It’s Not A Good Idea To Blog Everything You Do

By Brian Schott
ticklethewire.com
A man who robbed a South Carolina bank and then blogged about it on MySpace pleaded guilty Thursday  to the crime in a South Carolina federal court.

On Jan. 20, Joseph Wade Northington, 27, of Roanoke, Va., robbed the Security Federal Bank in North Augusta, S.C., and made off with nearly $4,000, according to the FBI.

After suveillance photos aired on television, a tipster called authorities to say the robber was Northington, the FBI said.

Agents then tracked him down in Virginia.

Of course, the prosecution’s job was made a little easier by the fact Northington had posted on social networking site MySpace, for all to see:“On tha run for robbin a bank Love all of yall.”

He faces a maximum fine of $250,000 and a prison sentence of seven years to life.

Fake Facebook Profile Leads to Child Porn Charges

A Kansas man is charged with creating a fake Facebook account to solicit pictures of underage children, according to a federal indictment announced last week.

Michael Cowley, 38, posed as a 19-year-old woman on the social networking site in order to entice the victims – including a 13-year-old boy – into sending him illicit images, according to a Department of Justice press release. He could face over 30 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines if convicted on all counts.

Judge Delays Sentencing in MySpace Suicide Case: Says Fed Prosecutors May Have Gone Too Far

This latest glitch only clouds the boundaries in the area of Internet law. Should we look at this as a setback for prosecutors or an opportunity for a judge to provide clarity for prosecutors in the future?

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By Victoria Kim
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — When federal prosecutors in Los Angeles indicted a Missouri mother last year for committing an Internet hoax that apparently led to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl, they touted the novel legal approach that allowed them to file the case halfway across the country. On Monday, a U.S. district judge indicated they may have gone too far.

“Using this particular statute in this particular situation is so weird,” Judge George H. Wu said, calling some of the prosecution’s argument “troublesome.”

Wu’s comments came Monday afternoon at a hearing where Lori Drew, 50, was to have been sentenced. Wu delayed the sentencing until July, saying he wanted to consider a defense motion to dismiss the entire case.

For Full Story