Business Blogging / Facebook / online privacy / Social networks

From Facebook Wall to Mug Shot

facebook eye Facebook’s half billion active users disseminate over 30 billion pieces of content. But even though Facebook users have privacy options to control who sees what content, From Facebook to Mug Shot: How the Dearth of Social Networking Privacy Rights Revolutionized Online Government Surveillance by Junichi P. Semitsu, University of San Diego School of Law, concludes that every single one of Facebook’s 133 million active users in the United States lack a reasonable expectation of privacy from government surveillance of virtually all of their online activity.

Based on Facebook’s own interpretations of federal privacy laws, a warrant is only necessary to compel disclosure of inbox and outbox messages less than 181 days old. Everything else can be obtained with subpoenas that do not even require reasonable suspicion. Accordingly, over the last six years, government agents have worked the beat by mining the treasure trove of personal and confidential information on Facebook.

The Article concludes with an urgent proposal to revise the ECPA and reinterpret Katz before the Facebook generation accepts the Hobson’s choice it currently faces: either live life off the grid or accept that using modern communications technologies means the possibility of unwarranted government surveillance.

Note: The Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in US v. Katz – finding that privacy attaches to a person, not a place – has yet to be extended to electronic communications.

In 2011, The New York Times published “1986 Privacy Law Is Outrun by the Web,” highlighting that:

Last year, for example, the Justice Department argued in court that cellphone users had given up the expectation of privacy about their location by voluntarily giving that information to carriers. In April, it argued in a federal court in Colorado that it ought to have access to some e-mails without a search warrant. And federal law enforcement officials, citing technology advances, plan to ask for new regulations that would smooth their ability to perform legal wiretaps of various Internet communications.

The analysis went on to discuss how Google, Facebook, Verizon, Twitter and other companies are in the middle between users and governments. This is worth watching > Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook?

EFF recently launched a campaign calling on companies to stand with their users when the government comes looking for data. (If you haven’t done so, they are requesting you to sign their petition urging companies to provide better transparency and privacy.) Click to see how the companies are doing.

Related posts found in this blog:
Facebook Connections and Reputation Management
Social Networks Siphon Personal Info

18 thoughts on “From Facebook Wall to Mug Shot

  1. I have to agree with the findings. I don’t expect much privacy protection from the internet, and it primarily stems from my dealings with Facebook. It is EVERYWHERE and permeates so much of what I do on the internet. For good or for bad, a while back I just decided to bend over and take it. However, I’m also much more wary of what I do online.

    • Hi there,
      It’s important to be cautious about what we post online. It’s even more important for the law to catch up with technology. The Katz decision finding that privacy attaches to a person, not a place must be revisited and extended to electronic communications.

  2. That just about freaked me out even more Titi.. At the beginning of this year, I deactivated my mostly dormant FB account.. It is a waste of time and more so, I felt extremely insecure.. You can freely stalk anyone and anyone can freely stalk you without your knowledge!! Yikes!
    Your blogging ball seems to be rolling quite well, after you have turned over into your 6th year!! ;)
    Good for us!

    • Hi Heart,
      I find the whole situation at Facebook to be disturbing and choose not to have a Facebook account because of it. However, what we hear in the blogopshere is that every business and every blogger need Facebook accounts to extend their range and reach all potential readers/clients/customers. I don’t have a monetary interest in blogging. Consequently, I don’t view my reader base as “ad-clickers” or potential clients or customers. I’m not an affiliate marketer and I’m not into pyramid schemes like MLM so I’m not looking to connect with others to become affiliates or customers or clients. I think the entry of money makers into the blogosphere and the conversion of Facebook from a college friends site into a huge shopping mall where data is being mined have changed what blogging was all about for many of us.

  3. Hi TT,
    I was told in school once not to pass notes in class that I wouldnt want everyone in class to hear. I feel the same about the internet in general…no information is really 100% secure. I am aware that others have the ability to access it if they want to. So I just dont post anything *that* personal.

    • Hi Jayme,
      That’s a very good practive that springs frpm great advice. Thanks for the visit and comment. I hope you have a fine long weekend. :)

  4. I had to close my personal Facebook account recently. I sent them a message when I did it to say that until the security there was tightened I would not be back. I have had so many problems over the last couple of years. It wasn’t to do with this datamining, but it was enough to make me sick of their whole set up there. When I first joined I felt pretty safe, but after the last couple of privicy settings changes it’s now impossible to completely hide your profile. Also, they no longer have an ’email us’ option so it’s much more difficult to get them to help if you find you have a problem. Sorry to go a bit off topic there, but I thought my experience with Facebook was sort of relevant to the conversation.

    • Hello there,
      Yes, your experience is welcomed here. Thank you for sharing it. For those readers who have been considering leaving Facebook my friend used thise follwoing instruction to delete all of her data from Facebook’s database. Facebook will only allow you to “deactivate” your account and that means all your personal data, including photos, interests, friends etc. will still be saved indefinitely. However, you can take the following steps to ensure all of it is removed from the database, in the event that you want to leave and not leave anything behind.

      (1) First log in and then go to ->
      (2) Click “Submit” and follow the instructions.
      (3) Your account will be deactivated for two weeks, however, if you do NOT log in during that period, then your entire account and all contents including personal data, friends, images, etc. will be permanently deleted from the database.
      (4) If you do log-in just once in the two week period then your delete acoount request is nullified and you are back to square one.

  5. Cool haven’t heard much from Junichi since his gig as the Dixie Chicks official blogger.

    Junichi’s Abstract sums up the scenario pretty well and will have to check out the full article.

    There are so many flaws in Facebook technically, ethically, and philosophically I don’t trust it at any level anymore.

    I also agree with Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT who talked about Facebook in a recent interview and said . . “I think it’s headed in a dangerous direction”.

    • @Steve,

      There are so many flaws in Facebook technically, ethically, and philosophically I don’t trust it at any level anymore.

      AMEN to that. I don’t have a Facebook account and all the reasons why I don’t have one have been revealed. We are on the same page when it comes to that datamining operation. I have no deisre to join that site.

      Also note that if one deactivates their account and then signs in just once in the two weeks following that deactivation the account automatically becomes active again. I know people who have deleted everything from their accounts and the deactivated them. They are aware that the data is still in the Facebook database and will be there presumably forevermore.

  6. Before my current battle you would not have known who I was from my on-line identity except for Facebook and I had that locked down pretty securely. However, I did make a conscious decision with my blog that I can’t fight this battle anonymously. So I’m me, so to speak.

    I do have the flip side of the coin though. As much as I believe we are losing far too many of our individual freedoms, I do think people should have to be licenced to have an on-line presence – this is the only way to fight the child abusers and pedophiles rings that operate internationally.

    That does NOT mean I think the government can just go collecting information willy nilly without the appropropriate warrants. They can’t tap our phones or open out snail mail without proper pricess – our electronic communications should be no different.

    • I’m sorry to say that there is no such thing as a “locked down” Facebook account. IMO Facebook users have a false sense of security. I have discussed this with Facebook members who use the third party apps on the site, play the silly games, and who click the ads. Well that “blows” their cover.

      I also hear you about the flip side of the coin. However the Katz decision must be revisited. The law is lagging behind technology and the current state of affairs is not a good one at all. I agree wholeheartedly with your final paragarph.

      • I never click the ads and don’t play the games – I don’t like that little page that pops up asking me to allow the app access to my friends, my page, my this, my that! My friends are all grouped into different groups and I allocate different security settings to each. Overall, I agree, it is not the most secure site in the business!

        Admittedly, this does not stop trusted family (for example) being untrustworthy, but I do the best I can with the tools FB provide. What I do NOT like with FB is when they introduce new stuff (like the recent idea of including your photos in ads) and not telling users so they have the option to change security settings. That is just downright sneaky!

        Ever tried contacting FB with an issue – I have not yet found a way to contact them. THAT is something I do not trust!

  7. George Orwell is alive and well, living off the grid. When I talk to people about the sneaky ways information is collected by everyone, from goverments to supermarkets they look at me gone out. The send emails with all their addresses in the cc column. They use their home address for email names. Put on social sites when they are leaving for a holiday. People are very naive when it comes to personal data.

    Me, I lie alot in surveys and filling in forms of all sorts. The only way to slow it down is to ruin the data. Even in my own small way.


  8. Law always lags behind technology. I remember when a fax would not be accepted for anything legal. Now it is. I am of course speaking of Australia, but I believe other western nations are similar.

    Privacy is something we see eroded more and more. I constantly find myself suggesting people read “1984”.

    Yet look at what they are entitled to do. In our spouse visa case they were entitled to ask when we first had sex. Not, as far as I am concerned, any of the government’s business, quite frankly. I also suggest in contravention of the ICCPR. However, if a government can ask me this, why would that same government not feel entitled to access my Facebook or my location (from my phone).

    Look how I was prevented from sharing those two posts of mine to Facebook. All others shared without a poblem, and once I was in Facebook as an Australian, I shared them no problem as well. While it was perceived I was perhaps an American (due to the method of sharing, I guess) I was blocked!

    We need to to be VERY careful!

    • That last paragraph of yours contains such an interesting observation. I’m amazed at how much personal information people willingly share online. Facebook is a huge datamine and shopping site. I don’t have or want a Facebook account. No matter how many time I hear that my blogs will not be successful unless I get an account there I will not join.

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