According to a federal memo recently revealed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, social-networking sites are seen as useful for intelligence agencies because of the personal nature of the information people post.
Specifically, the 2008 memo lauds the benefits of social networking sites for Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) agents, encouraging them to view people's profiles to evaluate their citizenship petitions. The FDNS is part of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (CIS). The memo suggested that the site could uncover possible deception by people the agency believes may be suspected of fraudulent activities because people are generally honest in their interactions with friends and family.
"This social networking gives FDNS an opportunity to reveal fraud by browsing these sites to see if petitioners and beneficiaries are in a valid relationship or are attempting to deceive CIS about their relationship," according to the memo.
The EFF called the activity "disconcerting, both for its assumptions about people who use social networking sites and for its potentially deceptive and unethical approach to collecting information," it said in a blog post.
Given the timing of the CIS memo, it's unclear whether this practice is still in effect at the FDNS. However, it's no secret that the intelligence community is interested in using social networks as a source of information for investigations.
Last year the CIA partnered with Visible Technologies, which provides social media analysis, to see what kind of insight can be gained from conversations made in the context of a social media scenario.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, too, is using social networks for its own investigations. Last year, an FBI document also published by the EFF reveals evidence of agents using fake identities to go undercover on Facebook to friend people of interest to the FBI.