Is Facebook sharing your face with the cops?

A leading law professor has accused Facebook of helping law enforcement find criminals on the network using face recognition technology. What's the real story?

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What is Facebook doing with all those photos you upload? Is it sharing them with law enforcement? Is it helping the secret police in foreign countries locate and imprison dissidents? Are you taking part in a police lineup and you don’t even know it?

As Silicon Valley quivers in anticipation of a likely Facebook IPO, those are the questions on my mind. So I went in search of answers.

But first, some backstory.

In December, the New York Observer’s Adrianne Jeffries wrote a brilliant piece about how banks are looking at social media profiles to determine whether people qualify for loans (which I blogged about here). As part of her research, she contacted Columbia law professor Eben Moglin Moglen, a privacy purist, to say the least. (He makes me look like Mark Zuckerberg.)

Instead of answering her questions, Moglen took the young reporter to the woodshed for contributing to everyone else’s loss of privacy by maintaining a Facebook account. Jeffries blogged about her tongue lashing here.

One of the things Moglen said has been bouncing around in my head ever since. It was about Facebook’s facial recognition technology, which automatically scans photos you upload and suggests tags if it recognizes friends of yours in the picture.

I’m not the biggest fan of this feature, though in my opinion the real problem is how Facebook allows other people to tag you without your permission. But Moglen says Facebook’s face recognition is far more evil than that:

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