In 2002 President Bush signed a secret order authorizing the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans. The NSAÂ monitored telephone calls, e-mail and other electronic communications looking for contact with suspected terrorists. Under U.S. law, domestic spying is illegal unlessÂ a warrant is issued by a court. Despite the illegality of domestic surveillance, the practice continues.
Recently the Electronic Frontier Foundation received government documents under the Freedom of Information Act. One of the documents from the Immigration Service reveals how social networking sites were used to detect fraud by applicants for U.S. citizenship. According to the memo:
“Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of â€œfriendsâ€ link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they donâ€™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.
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 â€œsite-visitâ€ on a [sic] petitioners and beneficiaries.”
The Social Network Monitoring Center (SNMC), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, ran an operation prior to the Obama inauguration in 2008 that monitored social networks for any signs of suspicious activity. For a fascinating insight into the clandestine caper, check out this PowerPoint presentation.
It's unclear what operations are currently active, but given how much personal information people reveal about themselves online, one can only assume that the monitoring is ongoing. The takeaways from these revelations? Be careful who you “friend”; personal information you post on social media sites is publicly available.