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Editorial: Feds get 'social'

Are you on Facebook yet? Or Twitter, or some another social networking site?

Everyone's doing it -- even the federal government.

An Associated Press report Tuesday detailed how U.S. law enforcement agents are now going undercover online, using false profiles to communicate with suspects and learn private information. A brief paragraph in the AP story poses the simple, yet ominous question, "Think you know who's behind that 'friend' request? Think again. Your new 'friend' just might be the FBI.

The AP report, based on a Justice Department document obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, details multiple issues related to crime-fighting and privacy.

One such issue pertains to privacy protections that social media sites say they give their users. According to the Tuesday report, Facebook rules state that users "will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission." Currently, rules for secret investigations on social networking sites are unclear.

We have little problem with investigators utilizing as many avenues as they can to catch criminals, but we don't want law enforcement folks acting without clear-cut limitations on how they may proceed. Otherwise, their actions may become criminal, too.

In the meantime, we have a bit of advice for the millions using social media networking sites. Make sure your "friends" are truly your friends. Keep as much of your information as you can private. And, lastly, a no-brainer: Don't give law enforcement any reason to go after you.