FBI using Facebook in fight against crime

Assistant US attorney Michael Scoville shows Maxi Sopo's Facebook page that helped the FBI nab him.

Assistant US attorney Michael Scoville displays Maxi Sopo’s Facebook page that helped the FBI capture him for bank fraud. Photograph: Elaine Thompson/AP


Any criminals dumb enough to brag about their exploits on social networking sites have now been warned: the next Facebook “friend” who contacts you may be an FBI agent.

US federal law enforcement agents have been using social networking sites ‑ including Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter ‑ to search for evidence and witnesses in criminal cases, and in some instances, track suspects, according to a newly released justice department memo.

FBI agents have created fake personalities ‑ in apparent contravention of some of the sites’ rules ‑ in order to befriend suspects and lure them into revealing clues or confessing, access private information and map social networks.

The new online efforts were revealed in a justice department document obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based legal advocacy group. The document, a 33-page slideshow prepared by two justice department lawyers, was obtained in a lawsuit the group filed against the justice department, seeking information on its social network policies.

Law enforcement agencies have long used internet chatrooms to lure child pornography traffickers and suspected sex predators and with a warrant, can seize suspects and defendants’ email records. But Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites provide a wealth of additional information, in photographs, status updates and friend lists. In many cases, the information is publicly accessible.

In a section entitled “utility in criminal cases”, the document says agents can scan suspects’ profiles to establish motives, determine a person’s location, and tap into personal communication, for instance through Facebook status updates.

Agents can examine photographs for guns, jewellery and other evidence of participation in robbery or burglary, and can compare information on Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds with suspects’ alibis. Friend lists can yield witnesses or informants.

The document advises agents that Facebook is now used in private background checks. It indicates that Facebook often co-operates with emergency law enforcement requests.

In one section on working undercover on social networking sites, the document poses but does not answer the question: “If agents violate terms of service, is that ‘otherwise illegal activity’?”

Facebook rules bar users from providing false information or creating an account for anyone other than yourself without permission, and says that users should “provide their real names”.

A former US cyber-security prosecutor told the Associated Press that federal investigators working online should be able to go undercover as much as they do in the real world, but said rules need to be developed.

“This new situation presents a need for careful oversight so that law enforcement does not use social networking to intrude on some of our most personal relationships,” Marc Zwillinger said.

In one case that highlights the use of social networking in law enforcement, a man wanted in Seattle on bank fraud charges fled and police lost track of him. The suspect’s Facebook page was private but his friend list was public. Among Maxi Sopo’s friends, prosecutors spotted a former justice department employee who did not know he was wanted. When Sopo posted messages on Facebook describing his easy new life in Mexico, his online friend provided information that enabled Mexican police to nab him in September.

Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos

Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos

In its first big policy shift since Facebook bought the photo-sharing site, Instagram claims the right to sell users’ photos without payment or notification. Oh, and there’s no way to opt out.

Declan McCullagh

December 17, 2012 9:54 PM PST

Instagram said today that it has the perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification, a dramatic policy shift that quickly sparked a public outcry.

The new intellectual property policy, which takes effect on January 16, comes three months after Facebook completed its acquisition of the popular photo-sharing site. Unless Instagram users delete their accounts before the January deadline, they cannot opt out.

Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency. One irked Twitter userquipped that “Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won’t have to pay youanything to use your images.”

“It’s asking people to agree to unspecified future commercial use of their photos,” says Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That makes it challenging for someone to give informed consent to that deal.”

That means that a hotel in Hawaii, for instance, could write a check to Facebook to license photos taken at its resort and use them on its Web site, in TV ads, in glossy brochures, and so on — without paying any money to the Instagram user who took the photo. The language would include not only photos of picturesque sunsets on Waikiki, but also images of young children frolicking on the beach, a result that parents might not expect, and which could trigger state privacy laws.

Facebook did not respond to repeated queries from CNET this afternoon. We’ll update the article if we receive a response.

Another policy pitfall: If Instagram users continue to upload photos after January 16, 2013, and subsequently delete their account after the deadline, they may have granted Facebook an irrevocable right to sell those images in perpetuity. There’s no obvious language that says deleting an account terminates Facebook’s rights, EFF’s Opsahl said.

Facebook’s new rights to sell Instagram users’ photos come from two additions to its terms of use policy. One section deletes the current phrase “limited license” and, by inserting the words “transferable” and “sub-licensable,” allows Facebook to license users’ photos to any other organization.

A second section allows Facebook to charge money. It says that “a business or other entity may pay us to display your… photos… in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.” That language does not exist in the current terms of use.

Google’s policy, by contrast, is far narrower and does not permit the company to sell photographs uploaded through Picasa or Google+. Its policy generally tracks the soon-to-be-replaced Instagram policy by saying: “The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our services.” Yahoo’s policies service for Flickr are similar, saying the company can use the images “solely for the purpose for which such content was submitted or made available.”

Reginald Braithwaite, an author and software developer, posted a tongue-in-cheek “translation” of the new Instagram policy today: “You are not our customers, you are the cattle we drive to market and auction off to the highest bidder. Enjoy your feed and keep producing the milk.”

One Instagram user dubbed the policy change “Instagram’s suicide note.” The photography site summarized the situation by saying: “The service itself is still a fun one, but that’s a lot of red marks that have shown up over the past couple weeks. Many shooters — even the casual ones — probably aren’t that excited to have a giant corporation out there selling their photos without being paid or even notified about it.”

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom speaks at the LeWeb conference in Paris. Click for larger image.

(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Another unusual addition to Instagram’s new policy appears to immunize it from liability, such as class action lawsuits, if it makes supposedly private photos public. The language stresses, twice in the same paragraph, that “we will not be liable for any use or disclosure of content” and “Instagram will not be liable for any use or disclosure of any content you provide.”

Yet another addition says “you acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.” That appears to conflict with the Federal Trade Commission’sguidelines that say advertisements should be listed as advertisements.

Such sweeping intellectual property language has been invoked before: In 1999, Yahoo claimedall rights to Geocities using language strikingly similar to Facebook’s wording today, including the “non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right” to do what it wanted with its users’ text and photos. But in the face of widespread protest — and competitors advertising that their own products were free from such Draconian terms — Yahoo backed down about a week later.

It’s true, of course, that Facebook may not intend to monetize the photos taken by Instagram users, and that lawyers often draft overly broad language to permit future business opportunities that may never arise. But on the other hand, there’s no obvious language that would prohibit Facebook from taking those steps, and the company’s silence in the face of questions today hasn’t helped.

EFF’s Opsahl says the new policy runs afoul of his group’s voluntary best practices for social networks. He added: “Hopefully at some point we’ll get greater clarity from Facebook and Instagram.”

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