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.