Your Facebook ‘friend’ may be a federal agent, says report

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It’s smart to watch what you say, and smarter to watch what you say online, because you never know who might read it. In response to a Freedom of Information request (FOIA), the government released documents revealing that social networking sites are being heavily monitored. According to the report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, social sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr were targeted, as well as Wikipedia, Craigslist, many political commentary sites, and NPR, among others.

One document reveals widespread information gathering around the time of the 2009  inauguration of President Obama: “Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuel 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.”

While some use of social media to monitor fraud and security can be justified, the EFF is worries that such extensive monitoring could turn a harmless, offhand status update into a blown out investigation.

“…while there have been some reports in the past year of similar social network monitoring for large-scale public events,” said the EFF, “to date the public has not seen such detailed information about the government’s approach to monitoring, especially on its data preservation practices. As our FOIA lawsuit continues, we hope to learn more about such activities and help bring further transparency and accountability to the ways in which government agencies and law enforcement officials collect and analyze information about us online.”

Are you worried about the government stretching its authority and over-monitoring tweets and updates? Or is this a good thing, as it could potentially help deal with or prevent a disaster?

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