Social media has exploded into our culture at an alarming speed. Nearly everyone participating in Facebook or Twitter at some point in time updates their status or follows their favorite celebrity, athlete, or other person on a daily basis.
The amount of information on these sites is overwhelming and people are finding new, practical ways to put their functionality to use. For example, police and other authorities have begun monitoring social media to garner evidence and solve crimes already committed, as well as to look for signs of future crimes in the making.
Social Media Monitoring Tactics
CNY Central reports that police departments have begun creating their own Facebook page where citizens can contact authorities anonymously. This allows those afraid to come forward in more conventional ways a more comfortable channel of communication.
Additionally, police can update their “followers” with information of crimes reported to their site. This information can reach many people considering most residents are able to receive these updates on their smartphones or other mobile devices.
Aside from creating their own profiles, police are monitoring the profiles of civilians to root out criminal behavior, with online evidence occasionally being used to obtain a criminal conviction.
Privacy and Intrusion Concerns
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration admitted to examining not only what social networking members post, but who they are connected to. This has raised several concerns about authorities infringing upon privacy rights and civil liberties.
Courts have yet to firmly define the boundary between accessing information freely available online and violating personal liberties. Criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors have had mixed results as they battle for and against the admission of social media evidence.
Future of Combating Crime In the Digital Age
Civil libertarians are deeply concerned about the potential consequences of using social networking sites to fight crime. There is a very real possibility that something posted in jest could support bringing criminal charges or be used to substantiate existing charges.
The reality is that police will continue to use these sites so long as it assists them in solving crimes and obtaining convictions. Frankly, good criminal defense attorneys along with their skilled investigators should be trying to use these same sites and available information to properly investigate a case for the defense. However, the criminal justice system must tread carefully and ensure the rights of the public, victims and suspects are not violated.
Any person having questions regarding social media’s impact on criminal proceedings or needing criminal representation should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.