Police 2.0 – How Police uses Social Networks

Hamburg. In September 2010 a businessman was caught by a speed trap. According to his company, they had lent him a car but could not authenticate that he was actually the one who drove. Thus, an officer checked the businessman’s public facebook profile and immediately identified the suspect as the driver. This way the man got punished appropriately.

This is a true story. With more than 660 million user, facebook becomes more and more interesting for police, since they noticed that social networks are a tremendous tool in gathering information and identifying criminal activity. Especially in the United States police departments set up a facebook profile in order to check up on people but with a different aim…

During my research I came across that nice blog where Sara Inés Calderón briefly describes how police departments actually use facebook. In various small towns it’s used to inform citizens about current events, like school closures or even the weather. Moreover she describes that in Ohio residents can post questions on the “Wall”, which will be answered by police then. This shows that these departments really try to create a dialogue.

To give you a better idea take a look at the Kentucky State Police facebook page. At the moment they have about 32,400 fans. Like every police department which has a facebook profile they use the “Wall” to upload mug shots, to comment on community events, to inform citizen about crimes in the local area and to report about arrests. If an officer dies they post it, too. In this way people are invited to say goodbye. Generally speaking using facbook allows police departments to give information in an accessible way. By using “Polls” and “Discussions” they invite people to work with them, which simplifies police work sometimes.

But this wasn’t enough. I kept on researching, googled everything I could. Finally I found a Wikipedia article. Immediately I understood that police not only uses facebook to keep in touch with their fellow citizens but also to check up on them!

As you might know drinking under the age of 21 is forbidden in the U.S.. Nevertheless, teenagers get their alcohol either by using a faked ID card or by asking someone else above 21 to buy them the beer or whatever. Now the problem: What do some facebook users after a great party? Right, they upload pictures, where people look drunk. Consequently everyone can see them if the profile is accessible for everyone. This carelessness allowed police and universities with dry campus policies to find underage drinkers (especially in the past). To give you an example:

 “In November 2005, four students at Northern Kentucky University were fined for posting pictures of a drinking party on Facebook. The pictures, taken in one of NKU’s dormitories, proved that the students were in violation of the university’s dry campus policy.”

As you can see, especially in the United States police departments use facebook. Therefore I wondered whether German police departments should do that, too, because Hannover’s police department momentarily has a facebook account for six month. 

One question is, is a facebook account useful?

On the one hand, it obviously facilitates police work, since people are asked to identify suspects or to call police in case they were a witness. Moreover it is quite useful, because a lot of people check facebook almost everyday.

On the other hand I read that in Dallas and Chicago police departments have a facebook profile, too, but it’s not as successful and helpful as it was supposed to, since their webpage is to general and impersonal. This clearly shows that if police departments really want people to be active then they should also report about local events and give specific information.

The second question that arises is, should police use facebook in order to find criminals?

Actually, as long as you as a facebook user don’t change your privacy settings, so that everyone is able to read what you post or upload, it’s totally legal to use this information. Past has shown, some criminals were proud of what they had done and hence posted it, not thinking of the consequences. Thus it can be good to check on people.

Nevertheless Marit Hansen stresses that German police should be careful, ´cause there’s always a catch. She claims that facebook could find out that someone has been checked out by police regularly, which could hinder the entry in the U.S. because no one knows whether the person was checked because of speeding or because of terroristic activities…

Honestly, no one can complain about being checked by police or anyone else, because we all know that we uploaded most of the things voluntarily. Of course it’s annoying if you love to speed, like the man in the example above, and then you get caught because of your profile picture, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Considering all facts, I would say that if police uses facebook appropriately it can be a useful tool to find any kind of criminals.


This entry was posted in Social Networks and tagged , , , by Franzi. Bookmark the permalink.

About Franzi

...is a student, who regularly posts for the business application systems course. Over the last couple of weeks I realized that business and IT related topics can be quite intimidating at first, but if you take a closer look, research can be even fun. So enjoy my group´s blog, ´cause my colleagues do a pretty good job,too! ;)

7 thoughts on “Police 2.0 – How Police uses Social Networks

  1. Hey Franzi,

    Interesting! This is a topic of relevance in our 2.0 world. Your article shows the demanded structure combining other people’s opinions with your personal thoughts and you provide some additional information in the links you post. Maybe you could shorten the green headings a bit so that they catch the readers’ attention. I agree with you on the usefulness of social networks for solving crime but on the other hand I think this only applies to small-time crime since experienced criminals would be quite stupid to leave such virtual traces. I would be interested in finding out how terrorists use the internet for their purposes without being too obvious. Maybe you widen the topic on that aspect some time.

  2. Great post, Franzi! I love all the extra work you are putting into the images and headers: it makes for a very readable post! The best is, you keep asking questions and linking to valuable resources on the topic — a great improvement from the last post! One powerful next step would be not simply to find the links that support your argument, but to find the professional discussion on this topic and explore what the issues are in the conversation among the experts: aiming high: to how managers are discussing these things. It is a pleasure to read this!

  3. Hey. What an enjoyable post. Very original too. I had never even thought of that, but it does make a hell of a lot of sense for police to use facebook. You obviously did lots of researched and I liked the way you made your every step in the writing process visible to the reader. It adds such personality to the post. The images you used were also excellent!
    Personally I believe that police monitoring on facebook is to be treated with care. Especially the last point you made makes it evident, that more laws are required in the field in order to provide the innocent fb user with the necessary protection against possibly rather far-reaching consequences.
    All in all, a good job.

  4. Hi Franzi,
    I found your blog very interesting. I have never thought about police using Facebook…Your blog post gives a lot of information to think about.
    I liked the structure of your blog. I could follow your thoughts very easy. Also there is a good balance between your own opinion and other people’s. You bring many examples, facts and images…as it was said before, they are great.
    However, I am wondering if police can check closed pages? Can they get this permission from Facebook? This question is important for me because I would like to know if anybody checks my page. In my opinion, in this case Facebook should notify about it somehow.
    But anyway, good job!

    • Hey Sasha!
      Sorring for answering soooooo late…!
      Honestly, if police can check closed pages isn´t that clearly to answer… First thing one should consider is the country, because every country has different laws. Concerning Germany I read this (German) article http://www.taz.de/1/netz/netzpolitik/artikel/1/moechtest-du-polizei-als-freund-hinzufuegen/. It says that everything you publish on the Internet can be used, except for pages/ content that is closed. Thus, you don´t have to worry. Nevertheless, if police really needs that information let’s say because they think you are a terrorist then I think they are allowed to check your profile on facebook, because it is not as protected as for instance your email account is. Moreover I think police is forbidden to use fake profiles in Germany to control people, but for example in U.S. it was approved in some cases. You see there is no precise answer. But as long as you don´t upset government, I think you don´t have to worry. If you have more questions don´t hesitate, just ask! 🙂

  5. hey franzi,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post.You really managed to show me/us your way of finding information, of your progress while searching the web but at the same time raising important questions considering privacy on the net.
    It should also make people aware of how they should protect their privacy on the web, espacially if you might get charged for uploading pictures?!
    If you get any further information of the progress on this topic, it would be really nice to read more about it on your blog.
    well done!

  6. Pingback: Second Review: Blogging | A Girl's Business

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