So Much For Going Dark: FBI Using Social Media, E-Commerce Sites To Track Down Suspects (Including Non-Lawbreakers)
from the where's-the-darkness dept
You know the drill, right? The FBI keeps insisting that it has a “going dark” problem due to encryption making it impossible to access key evidence of supposedly criminal behavior, in theory allowing crime to happen without recourse. The problem, though, is that nearly every single bit of this claim is false. It’s kind of stunning.
- It appears that, in practice, the FBI almost never runs into encryption.
- In the rare cases where it has (and we don’t know how many because since the FBI admitted it over exaggerated how many “locked” devices it had, and then has since refused to provide an updated count), there do appear to be ways to get into those devices anyway.
- But the key issue, by far, is that the opposite of going dark is happening. Thanks to our increasingly electronic lives, the government actually has way more access to information than ever before.
Two recent articles highlight this in practice, with regards to the FBI trying to track down the rare cases of criminal activity happening around some of the protests. The local ABC affiliate in Philadelphia has the fairly remarkable story of how the FBI used Etsy, Poshmark and Linkedin to track down someone suspected of torching two Philadelphia police cars. How would those sites be useful? Well:
In amateur photos given to authorities, she is seen wearing a T-shirt that says, “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists.”
They were able to trace the T-shirt back to an Etsy shop, where a review was left by a user that displayed a Philadelphia location.
Investigators say open searches for the username led them to a Poshmark user by the name of lore-elisabeth. Open searches for a Lore Elisabeth in Philadelphia led investigators to a LinkedIn profile for a woman who was employed as a massage therapist.
And, then they checked the website of her employer, which… included a few videos of a woman who matched the photographs of the woman lighting the cop car on fire.
None of that would have been possible in that way pre-internet. The FBI doesn’t have a “going dark” problem at all. They have more light than ever before. Indeed, it seems a bit more darkness and privacy would be useful, because in some cases, the FBI seems to completely overreacting to otherwise fine (or, in some cases, joking) social media posts.
And that brings us to the second story, from NBC News, detailing the FBI trawling social media to arrest protesters they claim tried to incite riots at various (mostly peaceful) protests. Of course, the details suggest that the FBI may have an itchy trigger finger in freaking out about what people are posting, as the story details many of the charges are being dropped after the facts come in and the overzealous FBI appears to have overreacted. Indeed, it looks like they’re arresting people entirely based on social media posts, which raises some pretty significant 1st Amendment questions. Or at least it would, if prosecutors didn’t realize what a mess they’d caused and dropped the charges quickly.
Avery is one of four known people across the United States indicted on charges of incitement to riot solely on the basis of social media posts, according to federal court records. One man was charged for posting a crude napalm recipe that is widely available online. His charges were dropped several days later. Another man was questioned by the FBI for jokingly tweeting that he was the local head of antifa ? a loose anti-fascist and left-leaning political movement with no clearly-defined organization, structure or leadership.
Taken together, the cases offer some insight into how federal law enforcement continues to monitor online speech related to social movements and pursue what legal experts say is a fairly aggressive approach to prosecution.
The charges against Avery were suddenly dropped without explanation Wednesday.
In other words, the problem does not appear to be “going dark.” The problem appears to be so much sunlight that the FBI is finding “crimes” where none actually exist…