Govt Uses Facebook to Spy ... On You

Think only your real life friends and family check out your Twitter updates or your Facebook page? Think again.

Uncle Sam is reading too.

You know, just in case you, or those cute shoes you just tweeted about, become a threat to national security.

A privacy watchdog has uncovered a government memo that encourages federal agents to befriend people on a variety of social networks, to take advantage of their readiness to share—and to spy on them. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the government released a handful of documents, including a May 2008 memo detailing how social-networking sites are exploited by the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS).


“Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuel a need to have a large group of ‘friends’ link to their pages, and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don’t even know,” stated one of the documents obtained by the EFF. “This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities,” it said.

According to the EFF, this memo—which specifically details how the government evaluates potential citizen requests—suggests there’s nothing to prevent an exaggerated, harmless or even out-of-date offhand comment in a status update from quickly becoming the subject of a full investigation.

You can read the document in question here (pdf).

While it’s true that many of us avoid sharing too much personal information via social networking sites and I sincerely doubt that the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security is truly interested in the pictures I posted of my kids jumping in piles of leaves this afternoon, the government-encouraged use of social media to monitor U.S. citizens is a thought I find disturbing.

We already know that the Obama administration is eager to categorize pro-life activists as national security threats. It’s really not much of a leap to think that an opposing administration could potentially use citizens’ free speech online to single out those who are pro-life, pro-marriage, or overtly religious for various forms of investigation and prosecution in the name of “national security.”

Saying so makes me feel a bit like a wild-eyed, gun-clutching, paranoid, anti-gubmit type, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of any federal office perusing my online communications for potential threats to security.