Many people put their entire lives on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms provide many with a way to connect with friends and family. What they often don’t realize, however, is their target audience are not the only ones who may be paying attention. Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are using social media websites and applications to build criminal cases against individuals.
Police use technology to help suspects identify themselves
Recently, New Jersey police responded to shots being fired in the early morning hours of Trenton. They found a shooting victim dead on the streets, having suffered multiple gunshots to the head and body. There were no readily apparent witnesses to the murder and the shooter was nowhere to be found.
However, police were able to collect surveillance video from several nearby businesses. One of those video feeds contained a shot of the suspected killer waking away from the scene and the quality of the video was high enough to obtain a detailed picture of the man’s face and clothing.
According to reports, police then used software designed to canvass publicly available social media information and imagery. The software led them to a Facebook profile with a possible match to the murder suspect. In the profile, they then found a photo of the suspect wearing the exact same clothing that was worn in the recovered surveillance video. The suspect had posted the photo of himself less than 24 hours after the murder took place.
Murders are high-profile crimes, so you’d expect law enforcement to pull out all the stops when investigating them. But the nature of social media can make it a gold mine of information and evidence for all types of crimes, from common theft offenses to domestic violence cases.
This is particularly true of hunting and fishing violations. Every year, I receive calls from fishermen and hunters whose social media posts have been used by law enforcement to investigate an alleged violation. When someone posts a picture of themselves with the deer they just shot or the string of walleye they caught, they don’t realize that Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources may also be admiring their catch – and using the picture to charge them with fish and game violations.