A new report shows that police have secretly searched dozens of Facebook profiles since 2008. How's that Google+ invite looking?
We've told you before that Facebook treats its users like products. That companies now exist to search for your Facebook account and tell your bosses your secrets. That people are quitting Facebook en masse. Now, there's yet another reason you might want to make the switch to Google+: Facebook has gotten into the habit of allowing police to scour users' profiles without their consent.
According to a new report from Reuters and Westlaw, federal judges have granted at least 24 search warrants since 2008 allowing law enforcement officials to snoop around people's Facebook accounts. Some of the warrants sought things as innocuous as status updates, but others gave access to friend requests, photos, event calendars and personal messages. And because of Facebook's inherent interconnectedness, it's presumed that police got to see not only their targets' information, but that of their friend groups, too. How many times did Facebook users challenge these searches as illegal under the Fourth Amendment? Zero, but experts theorize that's because Facebook hasn't been letting users know when cops are tossing their online lives.
Neither Facebook nor law enforcement is obligated to tell people when their accounts have been legally compromised. But other tech companies, like Twitter and Google, have official policies that say they will alert users before allowing police to comb their profiles. Twitter even went to court earlier this year to fight a federal ruling that would have barred them from notifying users of subpoenas. Facebook, on the other hand, has neglected to inform at least one user that he was under surveillance recently. Nathan Kuemmerle, a psychiatrist, was being accused of dealing prescription drugs when a police officer submitted comments he'd made on "Mafia Wars" as a reason he should be denied bail. Kuemmerle's lawyer told Reuters he'd never been informed of the Facebook warrant, and that the cop actually lied at the bail hearing, saying he got the "Mafia Wars" information from "an undercover source."
Even one case like this would be appalling, but records show dozens, and things are getting worse as more people join Facebook. There have already been 11 search warrants issued for Facebook profiles this year, which is almost double the amount issued in all of 2010.
With more and more people spending more and more time online, it makes sense for police to start searching social-networking sites for clues. But you'd think—or at least hope—that people who profit off your trust wouldn't consider you so expendable. It's moments like this when a notorious IM exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and a friend from immediately after Facebook had been founded seems quite prescient:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don't know why.
Zuck: They "trust me"
Zuck: Dumb fucks.\n
photo via The News & Advance