The rise of the Digital Age has led to an increase in law enforcement usage of social media to combat crime. Police are turning to high tech yet simple methods in order to catch criminals as well as to monitor potential criminals. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other social media sites are frequented by all types of people–including those who break the law or who intend to break the law. Some criminals are less intelligent than others, and law enforcement is taking advantage of that by employing updated methods of solving and preventing crime.
Passive Social Media Methods
Some of the methods that law enforcement employs in regards to social media are relatively passive. The simplest example of a passive use of social media is to scan Facebook, Twitter and other such sites for confessions of crime or intentions of committing a crime. The Huffington Post reports that the New York Police Department has formed an entire social media unit dedicated to scanning Facebook and Twitter for references to crimes. For example, the NYPD used social media to arrest a man who bragged on Facebook about committing an anti-gay murder. Police also can read about upcoming parties that might turn violent as well as tweets and posts that mention crime.
Police can also use facial recognition technology to scan pictures taken from Facebook and MySpace for wanted criminals. London law enforcement is using face recognition technology to attempt to track down and arrest participants in the London riots, and they are planning to use this technology to attempt to prevent criminal activity at the 2012 Olympics.
Aggressive Social Media Methods
Other law enforcement methods, however, are more aggressive than mere scanning. Police at the University of Iowa have uploaded six photographs of two suspected criminals accused of stealing a bike and are requesting that people help track the criminals down. Some cities have law enforcement Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and periodically post pictures and notices in an attempt to get private citizens to assist in tracking down criminals.
The U.S. Government is also taking an aggressive approach to using social media for reducing crime; they are setting up a competition called Tag Challenge that is meant to test the potential for using social media to apprehend criminals. The basic premise of the competition is that $5,000 will be awarded to the first user who manages to snap photographs of five actors portraying bad people who will show up around the world. While this particular competition is just a game, the government hopes to be able to take what it learns from this experiment and create methods by which the government could quickly mobilize a civilian force of millions to help apprehend fleeing criminals.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
Not everyone is in favor of these law enforcement tactics. Some people claim that posting pictures of people not yet convicted of criminal activity or scanning privately posted photographs and posts is a violation of privacy and of an individual’s rights. Others are afraid that such postings could lead to vigilante justice or misbegotten attempts at apprehending a potentially dangerous suspect. While some citizens support police in these technological endeavors that reduce the crime rate, others feel that law enforcement’s interference in social media is simply one more way that Big Brother is watching the people.
The future of using social media for catching criminals is limited only by law enforcement’s creativity and the laws of the land. As new social media platforms and new technologies develop, law enforcement officials and private citizens will have to learn to work together to prevent crime. If a potential criminal knows that his or her image would be distributed to millions of people via Facebook or Twitter, might that not serve as a potential crime deterrent? Or would it be a violation of privacy and rights due to the lack of a guilty conviction?
This essay was composed by Karl Stockton for the team at bail bonds agency.PS: Digging this story, news or review? Let us know! Comments open.
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