Is Intrusion Into Social Media Accounts Unconstitutional
Some say that investigators prying into peoples private lives via social media violates the Fourth Amendment rights that protect them from unreasonable searches. In many cases, authorities obtain private social media records by obtaining a warrant that orders the company to surrender the information. However, if investigators get this information by talking to a friend of the suspect or by friending the accused themselves, they are often able to bypass the need for a warrant.
Public posts are even less protected. In one case, an Occupy Wall Street protestor said his constitutional rights were violated when a court ordered Twitter to submit his deleted tweets for use as evidence against him. The judge ruled that public tweets are not protected in the same way private speech is.
If you are facing criminal charges, you will need representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand and protect your rights. This includes determining if law enforcement violated your rights in obtaining information online. In fact, our law firm has had numerous cases where social media evidence was used in the courtroom to impeach a witness, or bolster testimony. Good judgment should always be employed before posting something on the internet in ANY media outlet, however if you are a suspect in a crime, or are going through a lawsuit, divorce, or disagreement with someone, you should take extra precaution to refrain from posting things that could be used against you
Building And Refining Your Social Media Policy
The International Association of Chiefs of Police suggests that law enforcement agencies determine the scope of social media policies before writing them.
Your agency should determine the purpose of the policy, and decide what it needs to cover. Like other policies, your social media policy should clearly define terms up front so as to avoid confusion or disputes.
IACPs model social media policy defines things such as blog, post, page, and profile.
From there, the policy should clearly establish acceptable and unacceptable uses of official and personal social media.
Are Police Spying On Your Social Media
Law enforcement agencies have a long history of surveilling political dissent. While the practice is at least as old as the Haymarket Massacre, new technology has increasing given law enforcement new ways to conduct surveillance. This problem is confounded by the fact that many of us use social media to share not only our personal thoughts and feelings, but to express our political views or organize rallies and protests. Law enforcement is aware of this trend and have begun surveilling social media.
Geofeedia, a private company, is also aware of this trend. So much so that they have developed software that allows users to more easily monitor social media user data, by allowing individuals to search for key phrases based on geographic location or use facial recognition to identify individuals. They not only have marketed it to law enforcement, but done so while explicitly touting the surveillance softwares success in monitoring Black Lives Matter protests.
The released documents also contain a number of chilling facts. In Baltimore, Geofeedia not only allowed police to monitor protests over Freddie Grays death in police custody, but by using facial recognition technology police were able to identify protesters with outstanding warrants and arrest them.
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Putting Together The Story
As I write this article, a candlelight vigil is taking place in Palm Springs, California, for two police officers who were murdered in the line of duty.
I first learned of their murders when I was doing a check of social media to see if anything new had occurred since the last time I had checked.
I stumbled across a live-stream video, again on Periscope, in which someone was showing the SWAT team and containment officers outside the suspects residence. I immediately called the Palm Springs Police Department to inform them what I was watching.
They told me they had received information that several individuals were taking to social media with video, photos and commentary on the unfolding situation. They told me they knew about the threat to their officers safety, but there was nothing they could do about it.
We have seen similar recent situations, such as the riots in larger communities, the shooting of the five Dallas police officers in July 2016 and the San Bernardino terrorist attacks in December 2015. An abundance of content uploaded onto several social media platforms, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram and Snapchat, regarding each incident. All an investigator has to do is spend time surfing specific hashtags related to each event to get the essentials of the story.
Its Natural People Cant Shut Up
Theres something that just causes us to speak out or reveal what we consider to be our personal wins. To use street language, we love to talk smack.
When you add in the ominous ability to be somewhat anonymous on social media, certain bravado takes place in what people post. This also leads to the taunting of superiors, authority or law enforcement.
When individuals do this, they complete a great majority of the investigation for law enforcement. Although the title of this article is “How police use social media to catch criminals,” maybe it should be “How criminals turn themselves in on social media.”
In October 2015, a young woman in Florida named Whitney Beall was bragging about being drunk and driving. She provided a live-stream video on the social media platform Periscope. After the local cops watched Beall on social media, she was arrested for DUI.
In 2016, Mack Yearwood decided to post his wanted photo as his Facebook profile picture. He was tracked down to his brothers house and arrested for the warrants.
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What Tools And Tactics Do Governments Use For Social Media Surveillance
As we have seen, a large number of countries have access to technology or utilize techniques that enable them to carry out automated screening of content. Sometimes, this is Open Source Intelligence where the data captured/reviewed is publicly available.
These tools and techniques often use keywords to search out data that may be of interest to local law enforcement, e.g. conversations about an upcoming protest or slanderous comments about government leaders. Or, they may involve manually reviewing the results of users searches, what type of content they post and react to, or going through the content within public or private groups. Tools also enable the scraping of a web page so it can be replicated for the person whos reviewing the content.
In other cases, however, more invasive tools may be used. These fall under Social media intelligence techniques and technologies that allow agencies to monitor a whole host of content, e.g. images and messages posted, and person and group interactions. This data may be public and private. For example, a Facebook post may be publicly available to view but it may also disclose the users location.
Equally, some tools use artificial intelligence to identify criminal behavior before a crime is committed. This is the case in Canada, for example. In a recent contract with Babel Street, it was found that the tool enables mass online surveillance through the tracking, analyzing, and translating of online communications.
Police Are Scrolling Through Social Media Feeds In Search Of Crime And In Order To Check Up On Potential Suspects All Of Which Is Raising New Concerns About Surveillance In An Increasingly Online World
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Police Watch Your Social Media Posts Invasion Of Privacy Or Fair Game
Since the platform MySpace was launched in 2003, police have monitored social media searching for suspects and trying to predict crime trends, giving pause to civil liberties advocates concerned about authorities peeking over citizens’ virtual shoulders.
Michigan law enforcement officials say there’s no expectation of privacy when posting to public platforms and point out that multiple cops have been disciplined or fired for their own social media posts.
But some critics say the same biases that taint police investigations in the physical world also infiltrate online probes. They say there’s not enough oversight to ensure officers don’t unfairly target minorities or conduct inappropriate searches while combing social media.
Concerns about the intersection of police and social media were rekindled recently when a nonprofit magazine revealed that Michigan State Police contracted with a Colorado firm last year to use software that allows the agency to quickly scan thousands of public social media posts from more than 120 platforms, from Facebook to Amazon wish lists.
The article by The Intercept published details about the five-year, $3.5 million state police contract with Kaseware, a firm that describes itself on its website as an “incident, case management, records management and analytics platform” for law enforcement.
State police are using ShadowDragon’s SocialNet and OIMonitor software.
“That’s my first question. Will this technology be fairly applied to everyone?”
How Police Monitor Social Media To Find Crime And Track Suspects
FILE- In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. Facebook has shut down the personal accounts of a pair of New York University researchers and shuttered their investigation into misinformation spread through political ads on the social network. Facebook says the researchers violated its terms of service and were involved in unauthorized data collection from its massive network. The academics, however, say the company is attempting to exert control on research that paints it in a negative light. AP
Police are scrolling through social media to find crime and check up on potential suspects, raising concerns about surveillance in an increasingly online world.
Monitoring public posts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is a common way police departments across the country collect information about individuals or specific types of activities. Representatives of the Michigan State Police and Detroit Police Department said officers manually search public posts and also feed social media photos to facial recognition algorithms that hunt for similarities between millions of faces collected in police databases.
Shobita Parthasarathy, director of the University of Michigans Science, Technology and Public Policy program, said lawmakers should also take steps to protect the publics right to privacy by regulating online surveillance.
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Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington law school who specializes in privacy issues, says police could run into trouble searching on the Internet.
If officers were on the basis of gender and then making decisions on that basis, you could run into constitutional scrutiny, Calo says. And youd be almost sure to if your keyword involved the word Muslim.
Calo says the law is fuzzier when it comes to other kinds of searches, such as political keywords. The law and the courts are far behind the technology, and no police department wants to become the test case. Calo says its not clear whether it would be illegal for police to monitor for a keyword such as Occupy, but that doesnt mean police should feel free to do so.
Any police officer ought to sort of think through a kind of publicity principle, which is, If it were to get out that we did this exact search, what would the public reaction be? Calo says.
Thats why Keenan is now campaigning to get more police departments to set up internal rules for social media scanning. He thinks the tools are useful, and hes worried that a public backlash could cause law enforcement to lose them.
At the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Keenan gave a speech warning his colleagues that social media monitoring is a hot stove issue for police.
know what happens when you touch a hot stove you get burned, he said.
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Shadowdragon: Social Media Surveillance
The Michigan State Police purchased two of ShadowDragons OSINT intelligence tools to run on the Kaseware platform: SocialNet and OIMonitor.
SocialNet was invented by cybersecurity consulting firm Packet Ninjas in 2009. Clemens, Packet Ninjas founder and CEO, went on to start ShadowDragon as a sister company in 2016, licensing the cyber intelligence and investigative tools developed by Packet Ninjas over the prior decade.
At the time of SocialNets creation, investigators were left to search social media networks for clues manually. If a person made a public post on Twitter or Facebook, for example, an investigator was free to look online, but they had to personally log onto and search one social network at a time, post by post, for people who might be suspects and for their friends and other associates.
What used to take us two months in a background check or an investigation is now taking between five to 15 minutes.
Alerted to this problem by a friend from Pretoria, South Africa-based Paterva, makers of the Maltego OSINT platform, Clemens decided to build SocialNet. As he put it in an interview, the idea was, lets throw a net out into all of the social media platforms, the social media universe, and see what we get back. Clemens has claimed in a company video that when the FBI started using , they did an evaluation and concluded what used to take us two months in a background check or an investigation is now taking between five to 15 minutes.
Lapds New Tech: Address Threats Before They Occur
The Brennan Centers records further revealed the LAPD is now seeking to use technology from a new company, Media Sonar, which also tracks social media for police. In the 2021 budget, the LAPD allotted $73,000 to purchase Media Sonar software to help the department address a potential threat or incident before its occurrence.
The extent of the LAPDs Media Sonar use is unclear, but the companys communications with the LAPD have raised questions. In one message, the firm said its services can be used to stay on-top of drug/gang/weapon slang keywords and hashtags. Levinson-Waldman said she feared the company or police would misinterpret slang or lack proper context on local groups and language, and she noted research showing that online threats made by gang-affiliated youth largely dont escalate to violence.
Media Sonar also told the LAPD it offers pre-built keyword groups to help jumpstart implementation of threat models, and helps police cast a wide net. The firm also said it could provide a full digital snapshot of an individuals online presence including all related personas and connections.
The messages from Media Sonar suggested that the department needed significant safeguards to ensure that keywords didnt disparately target marginalized communities and checks to ensure the data was accurate, Levinson-Waldman said.
How Do Police Monitor Social Media
To begin with, how do the police watch social media? Most commonly, an officer views publicly available posts by searching for an individual, group, hashtag, or another search vector. Depending on the platform and the search, it may yield all of the content responsive to the query or only a portion. When seeking access to more than is publicly available, police may use an informant or create an undercover account by posing as a fellow activist or alluring stranger. This allows officers to communicate directly with the target and see content posted by both the target and their contacts that might otherwise be inaccessible to the public.
Police have also used software to monitor people, groups, associations, or locations in a more automated manner. This software included tools that mapped clusters of activity and a platform for linking undercover accounts. This tactic is less common now after the major platforms prohibited app developers from receiving automated access to public content for surveillance.
Dataminr, the prominent social media analytics firm, appears to have found a partial workaround to this prohibition by providing police with public sector alerts. Dataminrs automated systems analyze public data feeds and deliver automated alerts to law enforcement clients, including the FBI, about shootings and natural disasters. It is unclear whether law enforcement can customize the service to go beyond the types of alerts included in Dataminrs marketing material.
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Police Have A Legal Right To Use Social Media
Law enforcement will continue to use social media as a tool to uncover criminal activity and to investigate those responsible for crimes.
Law enforcement officials use social media to locate criminals in the same manner and with the same permissions as the average user. Absent certain circumstances requiring a warrant, the average investigator is not using any special software, nor do police have any special administrative rights to uncover the information they do find.
Investigators acquire the information just like the average public does. The only difference is that police officers have training and know certain investigative techniques to lead to an arrest.
Anything posted publicly is fair game for anyone including law enforcement to read. Police should make the most of this opportunity to prevent and investigate criminal activity.
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