Feds use Face­book to col­lect crime ev­i­dence

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Along with wire­taps, undercover drug buys, co­op­er­at­ing wit­nesses and other ev­i­dence typ­i­cally seen in ma­jor con­spir­acy cases, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors are scour­ing the Face­book pages of de­fen­dants for proof in a po­ten­tial death penalty trial.

In an ex­am­ple of how mon­i­tor­ing so­cial me­dia pages has be­come part of the law en­force­ment tool­box, the FBI re­cently filed a search war­rant af­fi­davit to ex­am­ine the pri­vate de­tails from Face­book pages of three men fac­ing trial in U.S. District Court in Wash­ing­ton in a mur­der and drug case.

Ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit, one of the de­fen­dants may have even been up­dat­ing his Face­book sta­tus from in­side the D.C. Jail with a con­tra­band cell­phone, post­ing mes­sages such as “Life sucks right now.”

Wil­liam Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, de­clined to com­ment on the af­fi­davit be­cause the case is ac­tive, adding that “we typ­i­cally do not dis­cuss in­ves­tiga­tive tech­niques.”

At­tor­neys for the three de­fen­dants whose Face­book ac­counts were the sub­ject of the af­fi­davit — Ti­mothy Moon, Ran­dolph Dan­son and Mark Pray — said they had not seen the doc­u­ment and de­clined to dis­cuss any de­tails in the fil­ing, which was ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times through fed­eral court records.

But, in gen­eral, it’s be­come “ex­tremely com­mon” for law en­force­ment to view so­cial me­dia sites such as Face­book and MyS­pace as ev­i­dence in con­spir­acy cases, said Mr. Pray’s at­tor­ney, James G. Con­nell III. “We see so­cial me­dia ev­i­dence in con­spir­acy cases all the time now,” he said.

Mr. Pray is the only one of the three de­fen­dants named in the af­fi­davit who could face the death penalty. The Jus­tice Depart­ment is weigh­ing whether to seek cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment against him and two other de­fen­dants in the case, nei­ther of whom is named in the af­fi­davit.

Mr. Pray, who has pleaded not guilty, is ac­cused of run­ning a vi­o­lent drug gang based in the Barry Farm neigh­bor­hood of South­east Wash­ing­ton. Among the crimes he is ac­cused of is the killing two years ago of Crys­tal Wash­ing­ton. Pros­e­cu­tors say she was shot to keep her from tes­ti­fy­ing in a D.C. drug case.

In the af­fi­davit, the FBI says it be­gan the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what authorities dubbed the “Pray Or­ga­ni­za­tion” about four months af­ter the Wash­ing­ton slay­ing. Lis­ten­ing in on Mr. Pray’s cell­phone con­ver­sa­tions af­ter get­ting court ap­proval, authorities said Mr. Pray got a call from a woman in March 2010 who told him she could see ev­ery­thing he was writ­ing on Face­book.

In an­other con­ver­sa­tion, the woman asked what Mr. Pray changed his name to on Face­book. Af­ter ini­tially deny­ing he had an ac­count, he later said, “I changed my name to Kaiser Sor­say,” the af­fi­davit stated.

“Kaiser Sor­say” was listed as “friends” on Face­book with ac­counts linked to two other de­fen­dants in the case, Mr. Moon and Mr. Dan­son, authorities say.

The FBI doc­u­ment said, based on the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion posted on the Face­book pages, “there is prob­a­ble cause to be­lieve that this Face­book ac­count was used for com­mu­ni­ca­tion in fur­ther­ance of the charged con­spir­a­cies.”

One post has men­tion of how some­body named “Spitz” was “wa­ter­ing down the pack.” The FBI said that re­ferred to a method of adding agents to PCP to get more but less-po­tent nar­cotics.

The FBI af­fi­davit also said Mr. Dan­son’s Face­book page is associated with the user name “Randy Ladi­escallmes­mooth Dan­son” and in­cluded eight sta­tus up­dates af­ter Mr. Dan­son’s March 11, 2010, ar­rest and in­car­cer­a­tion by the D.C. Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions.

“Life sucks right how [. . . ]” was one of the posts from Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit.

“It is presently un­clear where these Face­book sta­tus up­dates orig­i­nated; how­ever, the Face­book web­site states that sev­eral of the up­dates were sent ‘via Mo­bile Web,’ which in­di­cates that they orig­i­nated from a cel­lu­lar de­vice (which Dan­son may have un­law­ful ac­cess to in­side the D.C. Jail),” the af­fi­davit said.

Three days be­fore their ar­rests, a re­sponse to a sta­tus up­date on Mr. Dan­son’s Face­book page from user “Kaiser Sor­say” also stated, “I told fb this morn­ing that the streets don’t love me. Jumpers came like I had a bomb strapped to me yes­ter­day.”

Jumpers is a ref­er­ence to “jump out” or vice po­lice of­fi­cers pa­trolling around the Barry Farm neigh­bor­hood, the FBI said in the af­fi­davit.

Ac­cord­ing to court records, U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge John M. Fac­ciloa ap­proved the FBI search war­rant on March 30. The same day, the FBI emailed the war­rant to Face­book. The com­pany re­sponded by email­ing three files on April 18.

While it’s un­clear what in­for­ma­tion Face­book pro­vided in the case, court records show authorities were search­ing for, among other things, all post­ings, videos, con­tact in­for­ma­tion, pho­tos, pri­vate mes­sages, “friend” re­quests and “in­for­ma­tion about the user’s ac­cess and use of Face­book ap­pli­ca­tions.”

A spokesman for Face­book in an email state­ment on April 27 said the com­pany “works with law en­force­ment to the ex­tent re­quired by law and where ap­pro­pri­ate to en­sure the safety of Face­book users.”

“Our goal is to re­spect the bal­ance be­tween law en­force­ment’s need for in­for­ma­tion and the pri­vacy rights of our users, and as a re­spon­si­ble com­pany, we ad­here to the letter of the law,” spokesman Si­mon Ax­ten said.

The non­profit Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion and the Sa­muel­son Clinic at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley re­cently ob­tained through open-records re­quests a com­pany doc­u­ment de­scrib­ing how Face­book han­dles in­quiries from law en­force­ment. The groups also ob­tained other so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies’ law en­force­ment poli­cies.

“For re­quests pur­suant to for­mal com­pul­sory legal process is­sued un­der U.S. law, we will pro­vide records as re­quired by the law,” the Face­book guide­lines state.

In ad­di­tion, the com­pany also con­sid­ers “emer­gency re­quests” that “will only re­ceive a re­sponse if we be­lieve in good faith that se­ri­ous bod­ily harm or death of a per­son may oc­cur if we do not re­spond quickly,” ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.