Federal investigators in Detroit have taken the rare step of obtaining search warrants that give them access to Facebook accounts of suspected criminals, reports the Detroit News. The warrants let investigators view photographs, email addresses, cellphone numbers, lists of friends who might double as partners in crime, and see GPS locations that could help disprove alibis. There have been a few dozen search warrants for Facebook accounts nationwide since May 2009.
The trend raises privacy and evidentiary concerns in a rapidly evolving digital age and illustrates the potential law-enforcement value of social media. Locally, Facebook accounts have been seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI to investigate more than a dozen gang members and accused bank robber Anthony Wilson of Detroit. “To be honest with you, it bothers me,” said Wilson, 25, who was indicted Tuesday on bank robbery charges after the FBI compared Facebook photos with images taken from a bank surveillance video. “Facebook could have let me know what was going on. Instead, I got my door kicked down, and all of a sudden I’m in handcuffs.” Federal investigators defend the practice. “With technology today, we would be crazy not to look at every avenue,” said ATF agent Donald Dawkins.