Can the government get a full picture of who you are by friending you on Facebook and monitoring your friends and family? The Department of Homeland Security thinks so, and is apparently willing to pose as that hot girl next door in order to become your friend.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently got its hands on a DHS document titled “Social Networking Sites and Their Importance to FDNS” (PDF) as part of its work on social network surveillance. The document generally details how social networks function and provides a list of popular sites that people around the world like to use, including Facebook, Badoo, Imeem, MySpace, Windows Live Spaces, and others.
However, the document also highlights to agents the importance of amassing a lengthy friend list to many social network users, and how they can take advantage of it. “Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of ‘friends’ link to their pages and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don’t even know,” reads the document. “This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities.”
Agents are encouraged to take the opportunity to reveal fraud by poking around in people’s profiles to see whether they are in valid relationships or are attempting some other kind of fraud to get into the country. “Once a user posts online, they create a public record and timeline of their activities. In essence, using MySpace and other like sites is akin to doing an unannounced cyber “site-visit” on a [sic] petitioners and beneficiaries,” instructs the DHS.
As noted by the EFF, the memo doesn’t require DHS agents to reveal their government affiliation (or even their real names) before sending friend requests, nor does it specify what level of suspicion agents must have before trying to friend someone for surveillance.