Law enforcement's use of social media good reason to think before you post
Judging by the pointless, pathetic life updates people proudly post on social media sites, you’d think some were in a race to prove that inventing the Internet was a crime against rational members of humanity.
How is it that just when you think status updates and tweets couldn’t sink any lower, there’s always someone to up the ante?
Last Wednesday, 18-year-old Jacob Cox-Brown of Oregon was one to up the ante when he shared this status with his network on Facebook: “Drivin drunk…classic ;) but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry. :P”
Two of his Facebook friends forwarded his post to the police, who acted on the tip, sending officers to the man’s house. Officers determined that Cox-Brown’s car matched the description of the vehicle that had collided with two others earlier that morning. The time of his post confirmed that he had been driving the vehicle during the time of the accidents.
Shockingly, Cox-Brown was never charged with drunk driving, since police yielded that a post itself was not enough to legally prove that he was driving while intoxicated. Hewas only charged with two counts of reckless driving.
While holding Cox-Brown responsible for two accidents is a win for those who suffered damages, social media lawyers are now directing their attention to the consequences of law enforcement becoming increasingly active on social networking sites.
Law enforcement has already seen some positive results using social media. On October 2012, the Los Angeles Police Department received assistance in identifying photos of women who had been marked as targets by “the Grim Sleeper” by posting more than 40 photographs recovered from the suspect’s home on Facebook and Twitter.
However, the use of social networking sites by police, the military and others becomes a hot topic when you pop the question: Is it legal for law enforcement to read privately shared messages, posts and information on social media sites? Currently, it’s only legal with a search warrant or a court order.
Facebook’s terms of service explicitly state that whatever you post on the site is your own property, making posts tangible. Your online friend’s status updates are the equivalent of your neighbor having his own possessions around his house. You can read the posts the same way you can see your neighbor’s property, by being invited in. If something causes you to become suspicious, you have the right to report what you’ve observed to the police.
That being said, the information you share via social media sites is up for grabs at any time by law enforcement. Facebook even has a legal process center, where law enforcement officials can enter record requests.
The government’s defense wings monitor the highway of social media behind a one-way mirror, collecting data here and there. If government breaks that mirror and decides that monitoring social networking sites is as fair as patrolling the streets of your city, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than seven years of bad luck.
We’ve been cautioned to be “good online citizens” ad nauseam, but with the arm of local law enforcement increasing its efforts to establish a social networking presence, now we really do possess digital citizenship.
The majority of us read breaking updates on Twitter and Facebook before they become official news — and soon, so will your friendly neighborhood policeman.
- Stephanie Zawada is a Chemistry and Pre-Business sophomore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter via @StephanieZawada