From this interview from Julian Assange:

He believes the social network is joined by Google, Yahoo and other major US organisations that have “built in interfaces for US Intelligence”:

It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena, they have an interface they have developed for US Intelligence to use. Now, is the case that Facebook is run by US Intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US Intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure to them.

It’s costly for them to hand out individual records, one by one, so they have automated the process

Is the claim that US Intelligence has built-in interfaces in major social networking sites that allow them to browse personal information at will verified, or is it just guess-work by Assange?

  • Also, please calrify "at will". Do you mean "bypassing privacy settings"?
    – user5341
    May 2 '11 at 15:40
  • @frank: thanks for the edit - I've approved it (but if you can think of a 1-line title it's better)
    – Sklivvz
    May 2 '11 at 15:40
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    What he implies is something similar to: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSA_warrantless_surveillance_controversy but for all major social networking sites. Bypassing privacy settings and accessing any kind of information without warrant.
    – Sklivvz
    May 2 '11 at 15:54
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    @Sklivvz - I don't know what he implies. I'm not able to read his mind, and the interview doesn't say so anywhere.
    – user5341
    May 2 '11 at 16:02
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    It is entirely possible, given Assange's technical skill, that he may have found said interface(s). It is also entirely possible, given the nature of Wikileaks, that Assange may have had highly reliable information passed to him indicating these things. Thus, this may be neither verifiable nor "just guess-work".
    – Rex Kerr
    May 2 '11 at 17:36

The claim seems too vague to prove or disprove.

  • There exists a publically available API to access FB information.

    (as well as others - see MySpace APIs here and here for examples)

    The interview in question never clarifies whether the information purported to be available to the government without subpoena involves the information NOT available (on a level of individual user) to a random developer via an API?

    If he merely means "there an API to bulk-retrieve 100000 records, BUT only the information that - for any one of those 100000 records - a random developer would be able to retrieve as well", then it is quite possible that such bulk API exists. However, even if it exists, it does not help the US government in any way aside from lowering the processing cost from doing 100000 API requests to one bulk request. It's a minor technical convenience.

    If he means that there's an API that would allow retrieval of information including private information not available via one-off APIs to individual developers, there is no reference I was able to find anywhere to the existence of such API.

  • There exists an API for applications that run on FB as a platform to access user's information as well (contact lists etc...).

    I am not aware of any specific FB application being legitimately proposed/proven to have been run by an intelligence agency. BUT, you can't prove or disprove whether 100% of them aren't government-run.

  • To address the NSA wiretapping, something like that is not 100% impossible, but less plausible for social networking sites compared to telcos. The reasons being:

    Therefore there were significant levers to get them to comply with the surveillance without much fuss. Whereas privately owned FaceBook, and NewsCorp-owned MySpace are not nearly vulnerable to such pressure on either of the three points.

  • @Sklivvz - is a quote from Cryptonomicon a valid reference for the first bullet point? :)
    – user5341
    May 2 '11 at 16:40
  • @Sklivvz - added links. Though I think certain things are self-evident enough to not need to be referenced? :)
    – user5341
    May 2 '11 at 16:49
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    The answer I believe is no. It's not based on evidence, but inference. In the Aaron Barr-Anonymous episode, details of products Barr was working on to provide access to social media accounts to FBI etc. were leaked. They hardly need that if they have a direct api.
    – apoorv020
    Jan 24 '12 at 5:25
  • @apoorv020 Would you see them going "nah, we don't need that, we have it all already" if they did?
    – kaay
    May 9 '16 at 12:45

Not exactly in the spirit of this question, but it depends on what you mean by interface.

According to multiple articles and mainstream media, for example http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20052249-281.html

The justice-department has demanded the private messages of three wikileaks associates twitter-accounts. The demand has been appealed against, so we'll have to see where it goes.

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