Federal agents are infiltrating social networks via sneaky friend requests and monitoring them via a special command center, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Who cares? Well, prospective citizens, for one.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published a memo, below, encouraging agents to exploit the "narcissistic tendencies" of Facebook users and to "friend" prospective citizens on the social network, hoping targets wouldn't realize they'd let a federal agent investigate their profiles for evidence of fraud, like a sham marriage. The EFF writes, correctly, that "users may have valid reasons for keeping some of their offline life out of their online profiles... this memo suggests there's nothing to prevent an exaggerated, harmless or even out-of-date off-hand comment in a status update from quickly becoming the subject of a full citizenship investigation."
Also via EFF's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the civil liberties group obtained slides showing how the Department of Homeland Security operates its "Social Networking Monitoring Center," particularly during Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration. As the EFF notes, it's worrisome to see the government monitoring informational sites like NPR, BlackPlanet and DailyKos. On the bright side, at least government agents were able to provide some much needed traffic to ailing, also-ran social networks like Bebo and Friendster. And there's something undeniably comical about the image of besuited DHS agents trying to surf and, uh, analyze Facebook according to an officially sanctioned flowchart (also below).
On the off chance that one of your social networking profiles is going to get you in trouble with the government, we'd venture it's more likely going to be due to a snitching friend than a federal spy (a la the This American Life segment about a New York man whose home was raided by cops for posting a violent-sounding Fight Club quote online following a bad experience at an Apple store). Review some of the slides below — the full deck is on EFF's site—and decide for yourself.
"PII" means "personally identifiable information," like an email address. Click any image to enlarge: