Police using social media to monitor suspects and make arrests

A vast number of people today are involved with social media on a daily basis. From sharing pictures to keeping in touch with old friends, social media sites are a largely positive experience. However, many people may not realize that what they share online has the potential to be used against them if they are facing criminal charges. Law enforcement agencies in North Carolina have begun to track the social media activities of those they suspect of crimes.

People have, in fact, been arrested based on information that authorities received from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. According to Digital Trends, these arrests have included drunk drivers who posted photos or status updates regarding their activities, or others who shared their plans about committing a theft or buying illegal drugs.

LAW ENFORCEMENT'S SOCIAL MEDIA TACTICS

Over the past few years, police departments and government agencies have recognized the potential of social media to help them stop crime. These agencies' use of online social sites has grown exponentially since 2009. Many police departments maintain their own Facebook and Twitter accounts to become familiar with the public and to obtain tips on a crime or a suspect. According to Bloomberg BNA, most criminal cases today utilize some form of social media activity as evidence. This evidence can be used either for or against the defendant.

Some of the different ways law enforcement may tap into social media resources include:

  • Status updates or posts to a friend's wall or a group page
  • Activity that shows a suspect's location at the time of the alleged crime
  • Photographs or videos posted to the site, particularly those that provide compelling evidence

Law enforcement agencies may even use information provided by a suspect's Facebook friends or Twitter followers. For example, investigators have received tips or information from cooperating witnesses who can see posts or pictures that are kept from public view. A police officer might even "friend" the person accused of the crime to gain access to private information.

IS INTRUSION INTO SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS UNCONSTITUTIONAL?

Some say that investigators' prying into people's private lives via social media violates the Fourth Amendment rights that protect them from unreasonable searches. In many cases, authorities obtain private social media records by obtaining a warrant that orders the company to surrender the information. However, if investigators get this information by talking to a friend of the suspect or by friending the accused themselves, they are often able to bypass the need for a warrant.

Public posts are even less protected. In one case, an Occupy Wall Street protestor said his constitutional rights were violated when a court ordered Twitter to submit his deleted tweets for use as evidence against him. The judge ruled that public tweets are not protected in the same way private speech is.

If you are facing criminal charges, you will need representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand and protect your rights. This includes determining if law enforcement violated your rights in obtaining information online. In fact, our law firm has had numerous cases where social media evidence was used in the courtroom to impeach a witness, or bolster testimony. Good judgment should always be employed before posting something on the internet in ANY media outlet, however if you are a suspect in a crime, or are going through a lawsuit, divorce, or disagreement with someone, you should take extra precaution to refrain from posting things that could be used against you

Woody White

Woody White

Woody White is an experienced civil Trial Attorney, and has earned a reputation as an aggressive advocate, taking – and winning – cases before juries in both State and Federal Court. Getting the verdict that you deserve requires experience and Woody White has a proven track record of success.

James Baxter Blanton

James Blanton

Attorney James Blanton is a former state prosecutor, having served as an Assistant District Attorney in the New Hanover County prosecutor's office. He also served as a federal prosecutor, serving as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina.