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If your account is subpoenaed, Facebook sends police, well, everything

The Boston police department releases documents related to the so-called Craigslist Killer. Among those is the material released by Facebook under subpoena. It seems to include the whole of the killer's Facebook history.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We all live in the hope that we will never enjoy the prying eyes of the law.

But what happens if someone in authority decides they want to discover a little more about you? What if, despite your fine privacy settings on Facebook, the police or a prosecutor decides they'd like to bypass all of that?

As part of its investigation of Philip Markoff, the so-called Craigslist Killer, the Boston Phoenix got hold of the documents that Facebook sent the authorities after a subpoena had been issued.

These documents were part of the Boston Police Department's case file. They reveal that, in essence, Facebook is able to reveal everything you have posted to the site. At least, that is how it seems.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

In this instance, the company offered up wall posts, a list of friends (complete with Facebook IDs), detailed data of logins and IP addresses, as well as all the photos Markoff posted or was tagged in.

The causal eye might imagine that Facebook -- the folks who brought you the historic Timeline -- keeps everything for a rainy day.

One fascination is that when you are subpoenaed, the process is confidential. Indeed, the letter from Suffolk County District Attorney's Office to Facebook reads: "Because this is a criminal investigation, we are requesting that neither you, nor your office disclose the fact or the existence of our request, the investigation and/or any compliance or action made with respect thereto."

The joy of Facebook -- for those who find it joyous -- is that it provides a vehicle for the sheer spontaneity of communication. You want people to make contact with your life, your friends, your happenings, your feelings, even. You want them to do it as soon as possible.

However, it's not like normal human spontaneity, which can dissipate and become a memory. It's recorded.

There's another aspect which is faintly troubling. If you happen to be the Facebook friend of someone who's subpoenaed, it appears that your details come along for the ride. So the authorities get far more of a view of you, even though you're not the one subject to investigation.

Facebook has traditionally refused to say how many subpoena requests it has had or, indeed, any details about them. It could well be that every last element of your Facebook activity has already been examined by someone in authority.

Should that prove to be the case, would you even be surprised?