Facebook is among a handful of companies who are notifying their users of secret data demands made of them by investigators. In the past, these demands were quietly agreed to by the companies, but the companies are now backtracking, saying that users have a right to know when information is being demanded.
This runs contrary to what has been done in the past; before, investigators could make a request to whatever company they liked for user data and companies would comply. Now, Facebook is letting its users know that there has been a request made for their user data. Of course, prosecutors are not impressed by this move. They say that in notifying users of any request for their data, companies could be tipping off criminals that they are being watched. This would therefore allow criminals to destroy vital evidence, thereby destroying any chance prosecutors may have of finding criminals guilty of their crimes.
Companies like Facebook, however, are merely trying to distance themselves from the government in the wake of the announcement that the National Security Agency was engaged in surveillance of online services. Apple, Facebook and Google, among other companies, are working on expanding their online policies that will therefore expand routine notification of users about government data seizures, unless the company has been given a gag order by a judge or legal authority that would prevent them from disclosing that information.
The interesting thing in all this is that investigators are starting to drop their data demands when they learn that users are going to be notified of any demands for their user information. Investigators would sooner not take the chance of a potential criminal being notified about a user data request than actually make the request and have the company notify the user anyhow. However, why shouldn’t these users be notified that information about their online goings-on is being released? Many potential criminals are notified as to whether or not there is an investigation ongoing into their behaviors. Why is the request so bothersome in this case?
The answer to this is simple; traces of any crime that has occurred online are everlasting. Even if the crime has not occurred online, it is possible that there is some valuable information about the crime hidden deep within the annals of the perpetrator’s computer. Forensic computer experts specialize in finding this sort of information out, so it should be no surprise, really, that online crime – and investigations into it – are quite sensitive. It is, as investigators suggest, quite possible that a criminal tipped off to an investigation into their crimes will hurriedly eliminate all traces of the crime from their computer, but there always is a cyber footprint of the data. It just makes it far more challenging for computer experts to find these things.