Crime Fighting on Social Networks

Image courtesy of Capturian

There are online criminals like hackers, creators of botnets, and identity thieves.  And there are criminals online like murderers, sexual predators and old-fashioned mafia dons.  Law enforcement has increasingly started to use popular social networking sites to catch offline criminals online.

Pasquel Manfredi, a 33-year-old Italian mafia don, calls himself Scarface.  He’s charged with organizing the murder of two of his rivals a few years ago.  And apparently, he’s been using Facebook to exchange coded instructions and to stay in contact with other mobsters (and we thought “Mob Wars” was just a game!)  After the Italian police received a tip-off that Scarface is into social networking, they used intelligence they gleaned from Facebook to track him to his physical location and catch him.

Police as well as Federal law enforcement agents are now using sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn to go undercover.  They track and communicate with suspects, and use profiles to gather personal information that helps them solve cases.  So when you post up your pictures from that party night you can’t quite remember, you need to worry about more than just a potential employer seeing them, but also the FBI.

While law enforcement officials are excited by the availability and success of social networks as a tool to track down criminals, others are worried about the lack of regulations in place.  According to Marcia Hoffman, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there doesn’t seem to be any mechanisms for accountability or for ensuring that government agents use the tools responsibly.  Justice Department officials state that there are rules governing this use, but there doesn’t seem to be any publicly available document detailing exactly what they are.  If they’re not official laws, these rules can be stretched, broken or ignored.

Fake accounts are clearly in violation of the terms of use of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.  What do you think: When law enforcement agents create fake accounts on social networking sites, are they breaking the law?


The Register, Mafia don suspect tracked down via Facebook

Associated Press, Break the law and your new ‘friend’ may be the FBI

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