Archives

Feds “data mining” Facebook

DETROIT — 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.

Article

You must be logged in to post a comment.