DOCUMENT: Internet, Investigation, Crime

Social Justice

Feds detail investigative uses of Twitter, Facebook

MARCH 16--In a quaint presentation, cybercrime prosecutors last year gave fellow Department of Justice officials an introduction to social networking sites and their possible investigative uses.

In detailing the possible value of sites like Twitter and Facebook, lawyers John Lynch and Jenny Ellickson--both with the department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section--noted that information gathered could 'establish crime or criminal enterprise' and 'prove and disprove alibis.' Excerpts from the August 2009 Lynch/Ellickson presentation, released following a Freedom of Information request, can be found at left.

Perhaps to keep investigators alert, the presentation included screen grabs from Demi Moore's Facebook page, the MySpace page of a former 'America's Next Top Model' contestant, and the Twitter feed of Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter.

The presentation also raised the question of whether the federal Privacy Protection Act (PPA) might cover those publishing on social networking sites (the PPA was enacted to protect publishers from law enforcement search and seizures). Since the law defines publisher as a 'person reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication,' Lynch and Ellickson ask whether Facebook or Twitter would be considered a 'similar form of communication.' And, by extension, would the shield law cover a Twitter user like actor Ashton Kutcher. With 4.65 million followers, Kutcher has the largest following on the microblogging service. (17 pages)