In Detroit federal investigators are getting search warrants to gain access to the Facebook accounts of suspected criminals.
According to The Detroit News, the Facebook warrants allow investigators to view photographs, email addresses, cellphone numbers, lists of friends who may double as partners in crime, and see GPS locations that could aid in disproving alibis.
Since 2009 there have been a few dozen search warrants issued for Facebook accounts nationwide, this includes three that were approved recently by a federal magistrate judge in Detroit.
Experts say the trend raises privacy concerns and shows that social media has value to law enforcement agencies.
In Michigan, Facebook accounts have been taken by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI to investigate over a dozen gang members and alleged bank robber Anthony Wilson of Detroit.
"To be honest with you, it bothers me," said Wilson, 25, who was indicted Tuesday on bank robbery charges after the FBI compared Facebook photos with images taken from a bank surveillance video. "Facebook could have let me know what was going on. Instead, I got my door kicked down, and all of a sudden I'm in handcuffs."
Not sure what Wilson means when he says Facebook should have let him know what’s going on. Talk about a grey area eh?
Federal investigators defend the practice: "With technology today, we would be crazy not to look at every avenue," said Special Agent Donald Dawkins, spokesman with the ATF in Detroit.
What won’t Johnny Law do? That’s probably a better question.
The buzz killers in blue jackets, or the FBI as most respectable citizens call them, suspected Wilson was behind a string of bank robberies across Detroit that yielded more than $6,300. Special Agent Juan Herrera said that an informant told the FB about Wilson’s Facebook account. It was listed under the name "Anthony Mrshowoff Wilson."
In many photos on Facebook, Wilson was wearing a blue baseball cap and blue hooded sweatshirt, both with a Polo emblem. That’s the same clothes the FBI said the suspect was wearing when he stole $390 from a Bank of America in Grosse Pointe Woods on Nov. 26, according to federal court records.
His Facebook pictures also comprised one in which Wilson wore a red Philadelphia Phillies baseball hat, which the FBI said Wilson put on while robbing $1,363 from a PNC Bank branch in St. Clair Shores on Dec. 21, according to records.
On Jan. 26, U.S. Magistrate Judge Virginia Morgan gave the authorization for the FBI to grab information from Wilson's Facebook account. The warrant was executed within four hours.
Facebook gave the FBI Wilson's contact information, including birth date, cell phone number, friends, incoming and outgoing messages, and photos.
In relation to the Facebook warrants, the FBI had the audacity to whine about how some hi-tech crooks have made it too difficult for them to snatch up information online. They claim it’s too hard to intercept digital communications in real time.
In the future, these claims will probably be a part of a government attempts to claim even more powers when it comes to surveillance of the general population. The Obama administration has shown that they are indeed fans of spying on people.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a campaign recently to encourage Facebook and others to disclose when and how often law-enforcement agencies request user account information. We’ll see if that goes anywhere.
It probably won’t since Mark Zuckerberg just hosted Obama’s town hall on the economy. Why would Zuckerberg go against Obama now that Facebook is the preferred form of social media for the Obama campaign?
If you’re a criminal, or are thinking about becoming one, you might want to stay away from social media.