In a letter delivered to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, October 9, 2018, the National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) requested that Facebook immediately start cooperating with the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) efforts to investigate and halt wildlife trafficking.

The letter states that the NWC learned the DOJ had subpoenaed information about illegal wildlife trafficking occurring on Facebook and that the social media giant provided data in a raw format that is very difficult and costly to analyze. In doing so, Facebook is hindering crucial DOJ investigations into wildlife trafficking networks.

In the letter to Facebook, the National Whistleblower Center explained,

“The electronic footprints left behind by traffickers and buyers contain every conceivable type of evidence that would aid investigatory efforts, from proof of individual transactions, to the physical locations of the largest online sellers. This kind of data is the most invaluable tool that law enforcement can obtain in any type of criminal investigation.” 

Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, and a leading whistleblower attorney who is a founding partner at Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP, stated,

“Facebook’s behavior is completely unacceptable. Facebook knows that criminals are using its website for illegal wildlife trafficking and has data that could lead law enforcement directly to the traffickers. Facebook should stop playing games that delay these investigations. We are running out of time to stop extinctions.”

The NWC also expressed concern over the fact that when Facebook discovers someone using its website for illegal wildlife trafficking, it immediately removes the information by deleting the page or group from the website which hinders law enforcement investigations. Facebook also allows the suspected traffickers to delete their data from the website thus avoiding detection from law enforcement.

The NWC recommended Facebook take the following corrective actions:

  1. Immediately and fully comply with all state and federal subpoenas that request information on wildlife trafficking, and ensure that the information provided is in the most usable format possible;
  2. Work with law enforcement in helping them understand the data provided;
  3. Create a policy that would alert law enforcement to individuals who have been linked to illegal wildlife trafficking activity on Facebook, without alerting the individuals, and promptly provide data regarding that activity to legal authorities;
  4. Institute a policy of full cooperation with U.S. law enforcement on all wildlife trafficking issues.

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