Social media for combating crime

As the Edward Snowdon NSA leak story continues to unfold, another conversion, equally as important is surfacing – who should be allowed to monitor conversations and when? And even more important, what defines something as a private conversation versus public? Certainly we would all agree that if you post a website with information about a crime, that information is publicly available. But what if that information is within a private social network requiring authentication and moderation to join the group? These types of questions are all coming into play as the Snowdon story continues to develop. But they aren’t new questions. We’ve been talking about them for years. Just what can get a person in trouble on the web or within social media?

At the University, we teach what I refer to as the “grandma test”. Simply put, if what you do, say or share on social media is okay to share with your grandmother, than it’s probably okay to share with the world. Of course our training is more extensive then this, but that’s a good reference point.

The NYPD has been quite resourceful lately, using social media to track down, identify and incarcerate gang members who where bragging and discussing their escapades online.

Does it make sense to go one step further? What if the networks, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, allow (through some sort of partnership), law enforcement to have more administrative or back door access to these sites so they can monitor groups that are moderated or private without those groups knowing? There’s nothing in the terms and conditions of these sites that prevent this; nor anything to protect you. Most users operate under a false sense of security. So again, my suggestion is to not do, say or share anything on social media (even if you think it is private and secure) that you wouldn’t want the world to know.

If law enforcement then mines that data, looking at groups purported for criminal behavior, are they doing the public justice or encroaching on personal freedom? Can they prevent certain types of crimes from happening altogether or at the very least stop future crimes from occurring? Probably. But how much personal freedom are you willing to give up? I’ve never really assumed I had any personal freedom for anything I’ve posted or stored online, so for me personally, I don’t feel that I’m giving up much freedom. However, I do have personal conversations over email, and that goes through servers owned by Verizon, Yahoo and Google, to name just a few. And I wouldn’t want my email records to be made public (but even if they were, it wouldn’t be a big deal, because I again, I don’t say much of anything over email that if made public would be embarrassing).

So think about it – your phone calls, text messages, emails, social posts, and so on… all of these things could be mined for insight. If you are paying for the services (such as your phone), does that entitle you to more privacy?

These are some interesting times. What do you think? How much is too far when it comes to mining this information?

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