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This article was published on May 2, 2011

Here’s what happens when law enforcement subpoena your Facebook

Here’s what happens when law enforcement subpoena your Facebook

If you use Facebook, this is an article that you want to read. It will explain in detail everything that a law enforcement organization can request from Facebook. You’ll be surprised at just what they can learn from what you post.

Anyone who uses online social media should know that whatever you put out there is accessible to anyone. It’s a good rule of thumb to simply not put things online that you don’t want people to know. That being said, there’s a general expectance of privacy with services like Facebook. Once a law enforcement organization submits a request to Facebook however, those expectations are a thing of the past.

We don’t know if this document, detailing the way that law enforcement agencies must submit requests to Facebook and exactly what they can see of your profile, is real. But if it is, you’re in for a shock as to how much of your online life can be an open book, just like that.

Facebook law enforcement guidelines

First, the enforcement agency has to submit this form. In it they must give Facebook your email address, user ID or username. Once Facebook has the form submitted, they will then prepare an archive for the police to review. That archive will include the following.

  • User ID number
  • Email address
  • Date and Time of your account’s creation
  • The most recent logins, usually the last 2-3 days
  • Your phone number, if you registered it
  • Profile contact info
  • Mini-feed
  • Status update history
  • Shares
  • Notes
  • Wall posts
  • Friends list
  • Groups list
  • Future and past events
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Private messages
  • IP logs (computers and locations you logged in from)

You’ll notice that this list includes just about everything that you’ve posted to Facebook. In addition, it also includes a list of your Friends, which you didn’t technically add to Facebook yourself.

The archive is delivered to the requesting agency in a variety of ways, plaintext, XML and PDF among them. There is no mention whether the transmission of your data is encrypted although many law enforcement agencies do use forms of privatized email.

The idea that law enforcement agencies can request Facebook data is nothing new, but sometimes looking at it in this raw form can lead you to realize just how much of your life Facebook records. A life that is completely available should the police believe that you’ve broken the law.

This brings up some interesting questions about the efficiency of Facebook as an information gathering tool for the government, something Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been talking about lately, going so far as to call Facebook ‘the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented’.