Social media is starting to take off its short pants and becoming all grown up. Currently, there are 7.2 billion people on the planet and of there are over 3 billion active Internet users (45% of the world’s Internet users). Nearly 2.1 billion people have social media accounts and close to 1.7 billion people have active social media accounts. Social media facilitate daily commutations among people, however, people leave small clues about their lives all over the Internet like fingerprints at the same time. Now police has been taking advantage of social media evidence in criminal cases.
“Show off” Behaviors Lead to Arrest
Woud-be-offenders are increasingly posting videos and photos of their exploits online for the world to see. For example, a 20-year -old girl , Hannah Sabata, bragged in an online video that she was “having the best day of her her life”. In the online video that later went viral, she termed herself as the “Chick Bank Robber” and admitted stealing a car in York, driving to Waco and committing a bank robbery. She told the bank teller that she had a gun and the teller had several minutes to give her cash, The teller did as she was told and Sabata walked away with more than $6,000. She created the video when arriving at her home, telling her story via subtitles against the backdrop of music by the rock band “Green Day”. Unsurprisingly, she was arrested a few hours later and was sentenced to prison. Sabata’s story may sound ridiculous and stupid, but the fact is that there are lots of criminals who can’t resist bragging online after crimes. As a result, their dumb behaviors become a boon to police and prosecutors across the country.
Mine information about suspects
Despite these absurd “show-off” behaviors, some other information may not that easy to find and take a little more time and efforts. Instead of sharing their information to all, the majority of suspects tend to have their social media settings as private as possible. Nevertheless, their family, friends or anyone relevant may not be so savvy as them, offering police opportunities to collect information by looking at what a suspect posts on those people’s public pages. Drug dealers usually post innocuous public updates that include location information in an online community, so clients as well as police unfortunately know how and where to find them.
Seek for help from witnesses and victims
It’s not surprising that police spares no efforts to look for people’s help by posting suspects’ information and updated crime descriptions on social media. Local polices usually post them on their own websites or social media accounts, like Facebook’s or Twitter’s, and find it a good way to draw local people’s attention and get substantial help. Recently, on October 14, the Manor (Manor, Texas) Police Department actively conducted a social media search for a woman stealing a pickup truck at a gas station. After the initial story was posted, the stealer’s identification was soon confirmed as Vicky Field of Copeland. A warrant has been issued for her arrest on charges of aggravate robbery with a deadly weapon which is a 1st degree felony. Manor Police expressed the appreciation to the community members who identified Ms. Fields and shared the post across social media. Meanwhile, more crime information was exposed and the police is now seeking for further help to track Ms. Fields. such method to identify and approach suspects has not been a novelty any more, especially for local polices and communities.
Use fake profiles to lure suspects
Going undercover by creating fake online profiles to approach a suspect is very controversial but effective. Police would like to do so, but defendants always argues it’s not legal. However, last December, United States District Judge William Martini just denied a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence collected from is Instagram profile after he connected with an undercover account created by police officers. The Judge rules that law enforcement can create fake social network profiles in order to search through a suspect’s account. In order words, cops now can lure suspects into “friending” them and then use the content of their Facebook, Instagram or other social media accounts against them in court.
More Legal Concerns
Besides good news brought from Judge William Martin, federal law provides that in some circumstances, the government may compel social media companies to product social media evidence without a warrant. The Stored Communications Act (“SCA”) governs the ability of governmental entities to compel service providers, such as Twitter and Facebook, to produce content and no-content customer records in certain circumstances.
However, the SCA ,which was passed in 1986, has not been amended to reflect society’s heavy use of new technologies and electronic services, such as social media. Therefore, courts have been left to determine how and whether the SCA applies to the varying features of all kinds of new social media services. It still remains a very tricky issue to define a defendant’s constitutional rights regarding social media. Furthermore, it’s much more strictly regulated when a defendant seeks for social media evidence as support, which makes people doubt whether social media evidence is legitimately fair enough or not.
In conclusion, social media evidence has become a powerful weapon of polices in the battle against crimes. Four different methods are applied either separately or integrally, but there are still some legal concerns to be dissolved.