Law enforcement is getting more tech savvy every year. In 2013, the International Association of Chiefs of Police surveyed 500 law enforcement agencies, and over 95 percent of the agencies that were surveyed used social media. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular platforms. What is surprising is that the most common use of social media is for criminal investigations.
Police believe social media helps them close cases quicker. Photos of suspects can be posted online, requesting help from the community to find these people. Suspects can also be connected to other suspects through posts and photos on someone’s account. Some suspects even write about or post pictures relating to their crime.
Law enforcement also uses social media to anticipate crime. By collecting information about gatherings in the community, law enforcement can anticipate potential protests to have time to prepare to maintain peace. Gang behavior can be tracked through social media.
Social media is also being used by law enforcement to build community relationships and alert the community about traffic issues. Through these avenues, police are soliciting crime tips and alerting people to watch for suspects or stolen vehicles.
Police are using social media to identify networks of criminals. Known drug dealers are connected to other dealers through friends and friends of friends. One jurisdiction used Facebook to search for wanted individuals who left the county. Once a location of the person was known, law enforcement in another town could make an arrest.
What is posted electronically can be used in court
Law enforcement can use evidence obtained on social media to obtain a search warrant because what is posted publicly becomes public knowledge. Even if you only share posts with friends, you cannot count on only your friends seeing the information you put out on social media. When in doubt, do not post anything you do not want your grandma or a judge to see.
Without formal policies and processes for law enforcement, it is a legal gray area as to whether information gained through social media will hold up in court. Agencies are moving toward a consistent approach to social media and modern technology, but there is still some concern about privacy. Most people do not realize how much information they are sharing on social media. Some experts are concerned about how far the police will go to obtain evidence on social media.
If you are charged with a crime, having an advocate on your side who protects your rights can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your situation.