The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: 415-436-9333 x177,Email:,

EFF Posts Documents Detailing Law Enforcement Collection of Data From Social Media Sites


EFF has posted documents shedding light on how law enforcement
agencies use social networking sites to gather information in
investigations. The records, obtained from the Internal Revenue Service
and Department of Justice Criminal Division, are the first in a series
of documents that will be released through a Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) case that EFF filed with the help of the UC Berkeley
Samuelson Clinic

One of the most interesting files is a 2009 training
that describes how IRS employees may use various Internet
tools -- including social networking sites and Google Street View -- to
investigate taxpayers.

The IRS should be commended for its detailed training that clearly
prohibits employees from using deception or fake social networking
accounts to obtain information. Its policies generally limit employees
to using publicly available information. The good example set by the
IRS is in stark contrast to the U.S. Marshalls and the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Neither organization found
any documents on social networking sites in response to EFF's request
suggesting they do not have any written policies or restrictions upon
the use of these websites.

The documents released by the IRS also include excerpts from the
Internal Revenue Manual explaining that employees aren't
to use government computers to access social networking sites for
personal communication, and cautioning
them to be careful to avoid any appearance that they're speaking on
behalf of the IRS when making personal use of social media.

The Justice Department released a presentation entitled "Obtaining
and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites."
The slides, which
were prepared by two lawyers from the agency's Computer Crime and
Intellectual Property Section, detail several social media companies'
data retention practices and responses to law enforcement requests. The
presentation notes that Facebook was "often cooperative with emergency
requests" while complaining about Twitter's short data retention
policies and refusal to preserve data without legal process. The
presentation also touches on use of social media for undercover

Over the next few months, EFF will be getting more documents from
several law enforcement and intelligence agencies concerning their use
of social networking sites for investigative purposes. We'll post those
files here
as they arrive.

Related Issues: Social Networks

Related Cases: FOIA: Social
Networking Monitoring

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. EFF's mission is to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all people of the world.

(415) 436-9333