05/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Documents Posted By EFF Concerning Law Enforcement Use of Social Media

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and UC Berkeley Samuelson Clinic has documents that outline the use of social media by government agencies in investigations from the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Justice Criminal Division. These documents are being released through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case the organizations had filed jointly.

Read the post by the EFF on the documents and future release of records.

In the released documents is a training manual from the IRS (PDF) on how to use social media and Google maps to investigate tax cases. Also under the FOIA case, the Justice Department released a presentation entitled "Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites."

The documents just highlight a growing trend in law enforcement of utilizing available public data on the web from ever more popular websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to assist in investigations and communicate with the public.

In the Justice Department document they introduce social media and provide a nice breakdown of websites by popularity as per geographic region. For example, they have Facebook listed as worldwide in popularity; Twitter and LinkedIn as popular in U.S. and Canada; and Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia all have Hi5 in common. Orkut is deemed popular in Latin America and Asia. Others are also listed.

They list ways in which Law Enforcement can obtain data from these sites including undercover operations. Also outlined is what the evidence from social-networking sites can be used for. The document reviews the mundane basic parts and uses of the major sites and some information of how the site cooperates with law enforcement.

One interesting point came from the section on MySpace that reads: "Young user base, history of child safety concerns. Privacy is currently less granular than Facebook."

More importantly the document lists cases in which the information received from the websites can be used. A question posed cites the case of U.S. v. Drew and Terms of Service (TOS) violations. "Can failure to follow TOS render access unauthorized under 1030?" it also addresses the fact that the media shield law is still being worked out in Congress. Finally it warns agents to use good judgment in the use of social media on the job.

The IRS document is a true guideline to train agents on the dos and don'ts and ins and outs of using Google Maps and Social Media. It's very comprehensive on what the IRS will allow an agent to do in the process of searching the Internet to gather taxpayer information.

Now that law enforcement agencies are utilizing social media to investigate all types of criminal activity we'll probably be seeing more departments generating official guidelines. The social web is still wide open and mostly unregulated so defining an officer's allowable actions will be something every law enforcement agency will tackle in the near future.