U.S. Feds get warrants to mine Facebook accounts

As if Facebook wasn’t already enough of a data mining operation, judges are allowing Feds to access account information such as addresses, telephone numbers, friends’ lists in order to… you guessed it: ‘fight crime’.

By Robert Snell
The Detroit News
April 25, 2011

Federal investigators in Detroit have taken the rare step of obtaining search warrants that give them access to Facebook accounts of suspected criminals.

The warrants let investigators view photographs, email addresses, cell phone numbers, lists of friends who might double as partners in crime, and see GPS locations that could help disprove alibis.

There have been a few dozen search warrants for Facebook accounts nationwide since May 2009, including three approved recently by a federal magistrate judge in Detroit, according to a Detroit News analysis of publicly available federal court records.

The trend raises privacy and evidentiary concerns in a rapidly evolving digital age and illustrates the potential law-enforcement value of social media, experts said.

Locally, Facebook accounts have been seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI to investigate more than a dozen gang members and accused 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.”

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.

The FBI suspected Wilson was behind a string of bank robberies across Metro Detroit that netted more than $6,300. Special Agent Juan Herrera said an informant told the FBI about Wilson’s Facebook account. It was registered under the name “Anthony Mrshowoff Wilson.”

In several photos on Facebook, Wilson was wearing a blue baseball hat and blue hooded sweatshirt, both featuring a Polo emblem. That’s the same outfit the FBI said the suspect wore when he stole $390 from a Bank of America Branch in Grosse Pointe Woods on Nov. 26, according to federal court records.

His Facebook photos also included one in which Wilson wore a red Philadelphia Phillies baseball hat, which the FBI said Wilson donned while robbing $1,363 from a PNC Bank branch in St. Clair Shores on Dec. 21, according to court records.

On Jan. 26, U.S. Magistrate Judge Virginia Morgan gave approval for the FBI to seize 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.

Wilson was charged in a criminal complaint Feb. 7 and indicted Tuesday on five bank robbery charges. He is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

“I’m innocent until proven guilty,” Wilson told The Detroit News. “They’re basically going off my clothes. Ralph Lauren is a popular clothing line.”

He’s since updated his Facebook photo. Wilson swapped the blue Polo hat and blue Polo sweatshirt for white ones featuring the iconic Polo horse.

Despite the search warrants, his Facebook information page was still public Thursday.

Technology challenging

Morgan, the federal magistrate judge, also approved two search warrant requests from the ATF late last year and in February to search the accounts of at least 16 people suspected of belonging to a Detroit area gang. The affidavit justifying the search remains sealed in federal court.

Even with the access, investigators are having a hard time keeping up with high-tech crooks. In February, an FBI official testified before a House subcommittee about the difficulty accessing electronic communications on social media sites and email even with court approval.

“The FBI and other government agencies are facing a potentially widening gap between our legal authority to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to actually intercept those communications,” FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni testified.

Monitoring real-time Web-based conversations is particularly difficult, she said.

The FBI uses the term “Going Dark” to label the gap between having the authority to access electronic communications and the Internet service providers’ capability to gather the information. “This gap poses a growing threat to public safety,” Caproni testified.

Concerns over privacy

Information gleaned from the Internet raises constitutional and evidentiary issues that must be considered, including privacy and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, said Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen, who also is an evidence professor at Wayne State University. Evidence obtained from the Internet and social media sites also raises issues about whether the information can be authenticated, he said.

“The Internet is the next frontier for the development of Fourth Amendment law,” Rosen said, referring to the amendment protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures.

A Facebook spokesman said the company receives a “significant volume of third-party data requests” that are reviewed individually for “legal sufficiency.”

“We do not comment publicly on data requests, even when we disclose the request to the user. We have this policy to respect privacy and avoid the risk that even acknowledging the existence of a request could wrongly harm the reputation of an individual,” said Andrew Noyes, Facebook manager of public policy communications. “We never turn over ’content’ records in response to U.S. legal process unless that process is a search warrant reviewed by a judge. We are required to regularly push back against overboard requests for user records, but in most cases we are able to convince the party issuing legal process to withdraw the overboard request, but if they do not, we fight the matter in court (and have a history of success in those cases.)”

Spokeswomen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI declined to discuss techniques used by investigators.

It is unclear exactly how many search warrants have been executed for Facebook accounts. But requests – in Maryland , New York , North Carolina , Virginia , California , Pennsylvania , Montana and Alabama – come amid a backlash from users who complained too much of their personal information was being disclosed .

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation , a digital civil liberties organization based in San Francisco, launched a campaign recently to encourage Facebook and others to disclose when and how often law-enforcement agencies request user account information.

The Other Gulf Oil Spill: Ocean Saratoga Rig

al.com

The Deepwater Horizon is not the only well leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the last month.

A nearby drilling rig, the Ocean Saratoga, has been leaking since at least April 30, according to a federal document.

From Skytruth: Ocean Saratoga Oil Rig also leaking since April 30.

While the leak is decidedly smaller than the Deepwater Horizon spill, a 10-mile-long slick emanating from the Ocean Saratoga is visible from space in multiple images gathered by Skytruth.org, which monitors environmental problems using satellites.

Federal officials did not immediately respond when asked about the size of the leak, how long it had been flowing, or whether it was possible to plug it.

Skytruth first reported the leak on its website on May 15. Federal officials mentioned it in the May 1 trajectory map for the Deepwater Horizon spill, stating that oil from the Ocean Saratoga spill might also be washing ashore in Louisiana.

The only other mention the Press-Register was able to find of the spill in federal documents occurred in a May 17 transcript of a U.S. Coast Guard media conference. In that transcript, Admiral Mary Landry said that she was unaware there was another drilling rig leaking oil in the Gulf.

Officials with Diamond Offshore, which owns the drilling rig, said that they could not comment on the ongoing spill and referred the Press-Register to well owner Taylor Energy Co., which hired Diamond. Taylor Energy officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Saturday, the Southwings environmental group flew over the Ocean Saratoga with photographer J. Henry Fair of Industrial Scars.com and returned with photos that appear to show a large oil crew boat pumping dispersants into the water at the spill site.

“It appeared the crew boat had barrels of dispersant on board,” said Tom Hutchings of Southwings, a volunteer organization of pilots who monitor environmental problems from airplanes.

Henry Fair said that his photos show a large hose coming off the boat and disappearing into the water with several buoys tied to it. It was unclear how far the hose extended underwater.

“I see a hose going over the side. The boat was not moving, but it was making a wake, disturbing the water a lot,” Fair said. “I see a glossy slick that one would usually identify as petroleum, and it goes a long way away.”

Officials at the National Response Center said that the spill had been reported, but would not say when it began. The U.S. Coast Guard did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.

“We accidentally discovered this spill looking at the Deepwater Horizon images. The question is, what would we see if we were systematically looking at the offshore industry?” said John Amos with Skytruth.org. “Is this an aberration, or are things like this going on all the time? That’s why we are calling for public, transparent monitoring everywhere offshore drilling is going on in U.S. waters.”

Forced abortions and sterilization to ‘save planet’

Sovereign Independent

John Holdren, Obama’s Science Czar, in a Book he authored in 1977 advocates for extreme totalitarian measures to control theJohn P. Holdren population.  The tyrannical fantasies of a madman? Or merely the opinions of the person now in control of science policy in the United States? Or both?

These ideas (among many other equally horrifying recommendations) were put forth by John Holdren, whom Barack Obama has recently appointed Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology — informally known as the United States’ Science Czar. In a book Holdren co-authored in 1977, the man now firmly in control of science policy in this country wrote that:

• Women could be forced to abort their pregnancies, whether they wanted to or not;
• The population at large could be sterilized by infertility drugs intentionally put into the nation’s drinking water or in food;
• Single mothers and teen mothers should have their babies seized from them against their will and given away to other couples to raise;
• People who “contribute to social deterioration” (i.e. undesirables) “can be required by law to exercise reproductive responsibility” — in other words, be compelled to have abortions or be sterilized.
• A transnational “Planetary Regime” should assume control of the global economy and also dictate the most intimate details of Americans’ lives — using an armed international police force.

Impossible, you say? That must be an exaggeration or a hoax. No one in their right mind would say such things.

Well, I hate to break the news to you, but it is no hoax, no exaggeration. John Holdren really did say those things, and this report contains the proof. Below you will find photographs, scans, and transcriptions of pages in the book Ecoscience, co-authored in 1977 by John Holdren and his close colleagues Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich. The scans and photos are provided to supply conclusive evidence that the words attributed to Holdren are unaltered and accurately transcribed.

[UPDATE: Make sure to read the new statements issued by the White House and by John Holdren’s office in response to the controversy raised by this essay — you can see them below following the Ecoscience excerpts, or you can jump directly to the statements by clicking here.]

This report was originally inspired by this article in FrontPage magazine, which covers some of the same information given here. But that article, although it contained many shocking quotes from John Holdren, failed to make much of an impact on public opinion. Why not? Because, as I discovered when discussing the article with various friends, there was no proof that the quotes were accurate — so most folks (even those opposed to Obama’s policies) doubted their veracity, because the statements seemed too inflammatory to be true. In the modern era, it seems, journalists have lost all credibility, and so are presumed to be lying or exaggerating unless solid evidence is offered to back up the claims. Well, this report contains that evidence.

Of course, Holdren wrote these things in the framework of a book he co-authored about what he imagined at the time (late 1970s) was an apocalyptic crisis facing mankind: overpopulation. He felt extreme measures would be required to combat an extreme problem. Whether or not you think this provides him a valid “excuse” for having descended into a totalitarian fantasy is up to you: personally, I don’t think it’s a valid excuse at all, since the crisis he was in a panic over was mostly in his imagination. Totalitarian regimes and unhinged people almost always have what seems internally like a reasonable justification for actions which to the outside world seem incomprehensible.

Direct quotes from John Holdren’s Ecoscience

Below you will find a series of ten short passages from Ecoscience. On the left in each case is a scanned image taken directly from the pages of the book itself; on the right is an exact transcription of each passage, with noteworthy sections highlighted. Below each quote is a short analysis by me.

Following these short quotes, I take a “step back” and provide the full extended passages from which each of the shorter quotes were excerpted, to provide the full context.

And at the bottom of this report, I provide untouched scans (and photos) of the full pages from which all of these passages were taken, to quash any doubts anyone might have that these are absolutely real, and to forestall any claims that the quotes were taken “out of context.”

Ready? Brace yourself. And prepare to be shocked.