Federal Agents Using False Online Profiles To Gather Evidence


Law enforcers are following the rest of the Internet world into social networking, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather information, reports the Associated Press. A Justice Department document that surfaced in a lawsuit shows that agents are logging on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects, identify a target’s friends or relatives, and browse information such as postings, personal photographs, and video clips.

Investigators can check suspects’ alibis by comparing stories told to police with tweets sent at the same time about their whereabouts. Online photos from a suspicious spending spree, such as posing with jewelry or cars, can link suspects or their friends to crime. The Justice document reminds government lawyers that the public sections of social networks are a “valuable source” of information on defense witnesses. “Knowledge is power,” says the paper. “Research all witnesses on social networking sites.” The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained the document when it sued the Justice Department and five other agencies. A decade ago, agents kept watch in online chat rooms to nab sexual predators. But those text-only chat services are old-school compared with today’s social media, which contain a potential treasure trove of evidence.

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