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8 Ways Police Can Spy on You Without a Warrant

There are plenty of ways for law enforcement, from the local sheriff to the FBI, to snoop on the digital trails you create every day.

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8. Social media: The new privacy frontier

How they get it

When it comes to sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the social networks' privacy policies dictate how cooperative they are in handing over users' data. Facebook  says it requires a warrant from a judge to disclose a user's "messages, photos, videos, wall posts, and location information." But it will supply basic information, such as a user's email address or the IP addresses of the computers from which someone recently accessed an account, under a subpoena. Twitter  reported in July that it had received 679 requests for user information from U.S. authorities during the first six months of 2012. Twitter says that "non-public information about Twitter users is not released except as lawfully required by appropriate legal process such as a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process."

What the law says

Courts haven't issued a definitive ruling on social media. In September, a Manhattan Criminal Court judge upheld a prosecutor's subpoena for information from Twitter about an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in 2011. It was the first time a judge had allowed prosecutors to use a subpoena to get information from Twitter rather than forcing them to get a warrant; the case is ongoing.

 

Theodoric Meyer is ProPublica’s reporting fellow. He was a lead reporter for ProPublica’s “After the Flood” series, which won the Deadline Club Award for Local Reporting in 2014.

Peter Maass is the author of "Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War," which chronicled his experiences covering the war in Bosnia, and "Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil," about the ways oil shapes the world. Maass has written in-depth magazine stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and other publications. He has taught at Princeton University, was a Visiting Regents Lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, and a fellow at both the American Academy in Berlin and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012 for his forthcoming book on revolution, video and surveillance.
 
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