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Is It Right For Police To Use Twitter To Track Criminals?

Submitted by on November 1, 2010 – 10:00 amNo Comment

If you’re doing the right things in life, making smart decisions and staying away from “the wrong crowd,” your Twitter account is probably just that: A Twitter account you use to keep in touch with friends, update people about your life and stay connected with current events.

But if you’re the type of person who tends to “do dirt,” as they say, you might want to consider dropping your Twitter handle like a bad habit. Detectives in Britain have started to take special training courses in order to use social media networks like Twitter to investigate the lives of criminals. They’re not just using it for the obvious reasons, either, and looking for tweets like, “I just robbed a bank!” or “Can you believe how much I’ve shoplifted this month?” They’re using Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media in order to see who suspected criminals are communicating with and to try and find witnesses in criminal cases.

On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. Using Twitter to track down criminals can come in handy when it comes to a criminal case. It’s hard to fake an alibi when you’re tweeting about every little detail of your life. There are also plenty of clues to be had by investigating someone’s Twitter account. Co-defendants in certain cases, who might otherwise claim that they don’t know one another, can be connected through the power of social media. The location of a criminal can be found anytime they send out a tweet. And police can detect certain patterns taking place in a criminal’s life to find out more about them.

But using Twitter and Facebook to gather witnesses presents a certain level of risk and that’s the element of this that worries me. If a person is doing nothing wrong but just happens to be connected to a criminal or happens to be in the same place as a criminal when a crime occurs, said person may now become a witness in a case, regardless of whether or not they actually saw anything.

To us, this just seems like another situation where a form of technology might be so new it’s hard to gauge whether using it in order to fight crime is a good idea. Can it be helpful in the process? Of course. Contrary to popular belief, social media is real life. What you write on Twitter doesn’t stay online. Your Facebook profile is more than just an online persona. And your MySpace page isn’t, in fact, your space. Anything you say or do on a social media site can be used against you offline.

When the practices being put into place in Britain make their way to the United States as they are bound to do, here’s hoping they’ve been refined so those who use social media responsibly don’t get dragged into court. We hope police respect the privacy of citizens and don’t use social media to intimidate someone who might not be involved in a crime. Let’s hope Twitter and other forms of social media aren’t used to track and hunt us down.

Twitter and Facebook have a certain staying power that leads me to believe they’ll be around and in use for a long time, as long as they aren’t used to invade whatever privacy we have left in this world. Go ahead and retweet that.

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