Police use Facebook and Twitter to spy, entrap
BY CINDY JAQUITH
Elliot Madison, a New York social worker, was arrested in Pittsburgh during the September protests at the G20 summit. He was charged with hindering arrests and prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility, and possession of instruments of crime.
What were those instruments? A computer. Madison sent out a message on the social networking site Twitter to other demonstrators that the police had issued an order over radio to disperse. By the cops’ twisted reasoning, that apparently meant some protesters didn’t get arrested and prosecuted because they received the message and dispersed.
The cops had signed up on the Listserv Madison setup to transmit messages during the protests. They tracked the message to the hotel room where Madison was staying. They burst in, guns drawn, and handcuffed everyone there while they searched the room. Madison was not allowed to see what was in the search warrant. This is but one example of how the police are increasingly utilizing social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to conduct surveillance, entrap, and make arrests.
Newsweek magazine interviewed Max Kelly, a former FBI computer analyst now in charge of “security” for Facebook. “Kelly estimates police contact Facebook regarding up to half the crimes that attract national media attention,” the magazine said. “The company says it tends to cooperate fully and, for the most part, users aren’t aware of the 10 to 20 police requests the site gets every day.”
The police department in Montgomery County, Maryland, creates fake profiles on Facebook to attract teenagers and learn the location of parties where alcohol might be served to underage youth. Cop William Morrison told Washingtonian magazine that when the police raid a party, “they usually ask us how we found out. We say, ‘You told us.’”
In Kentucky Ellen Hause, a substitute teacher, was sent to jail because of a photo posted on Facebook. It was taken in Hause’s home and shows her with her children and their friends. Some of the youth are holding bottles of alcohol. The judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail and barred her from drinking alcohol or having it in her home during her three-year probation.
Bosses are also getting into the act.
In the United Kingdom a man wrote on Facebook, “I Work At Argos and Can’t Wait to Leave.” The company fired him, claiming that “placing inappropriate entries on Facebook is against our company policy.”
Kevin Colvin, a former intern at a U.S. branch of Anglo Irish Bank, emailed his boss telling him he could not come to work the next day because of a family emergency. Colvin was fired after his boss looked at his photos on Facebook and discovered he had attended a party instead.
Kimberley Swann, 16, of Clacton in the United Kingdom was fired after three weeks working at Ivell Marketing & Logistics. Why? “I came home from work one day, sat on the computer and said something about my job being boring,” she says. Swann did not mention what company she worked for, but her bosses were checking her Facebook page anyway and spotted her comment.
Nathalie Blanchard of Canada had gone on a medical leave from her job due to depression. Suddenly her sick paycheck stopped coming. When she called the insurer to find out what happened, the agent said he had seen photos on Facebook that showed her at a party, on a vacation, and at a bar. She looked like she was having fun, he said, so she must no longer be depressed.