Most people on the internet today have social media profiles, and this is a desirable resource for keeping in contact with friends and family, and even acquaintances, but even better for those that wish to find out everything about your private life. Social media has evolved in the past 6 years from just posting a status about what you’re doing to geo-locating your every move with timestamps. There are 1,965,000,000 registered user’s combined between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as of March 24th 2015 (Statisticbrain, 2015) and most social networks like Twitter have the privacy settings set to default upon account creation (Twitter, 2015), and default means that your information can be viewed by anyone on the internet even without an account themselves, this includes geo-location and your personal bio and images.
Often Twitter users have the same picture of themselves and the same ‘handle’ (username) on all their social media sites (Gan and Jenkins, 2015) which will allow anyone to match up the accounts and build a profile of someone easily with the additional information found on the counterpart accounts. There are many uses for the open source data that can be collected from the social media account, most importantly evidence to a crime, such that with the use of the data found, someone could become a possible witness to a crime. The data could be used against someone to catch them committing a crime, based on their regular geo-locations of their tweets and other social updates.
As the internet grows and becomes integrated into people’s lives, law enforcement around the world have started to make use of the data that is around them on social networks and use it to boost the police image. The Boston police department implement a ‘push strategy’ when it comes to their online presence and they use this to broadcast existing content through their social media channels. Social media was used as a connection to the public ensuring that they get accurate information about issues going on around Boston. There was limited funding for a website and a previous attempt at distributing information via RSS feed was not effective, but as soon as Facebook and Twitter were included the reaction and engagement with the public increased dramatically thus improving their corporate branding (Meijer and Thaens, 2013).
The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia adopt a ‘push and pull strategy’ when using social media. This is recognised as a strategy that is mainly focussed on public relations. The MPDC used YouTube in 2009 for recruitment and investigative purposes and since the introduction of the social media the recruitment of volunteers have doubled. In regards to investigations, this was justified when a video of a shooting in a subway station was recorded and uploaded to the video streaming website. They realised that with the use of Twitter they could get information from the public much quicker and felt that it could be used for the citizens to contact the police department in a crisis situation (Meijer and Thaens, 2013).
However the Toronto Police service has taken a totally different approach to social media and how it can benefit them. They use a ‘networking strategy’ and this is focussing on building better police-citizen relations within the community. They allow their officers to take the social media into their own hands and don’t believe that they themselves can authorise every tweet, it is the officer’s responsibility. This means that it’s a two way street between the public and the police, if the public feel that they need enforcement on speeding they take this information from social media and create YouTube videos and tweets to show that they are enforcing it (Meijer and Thaens, 2013).They conclude that ample foundations are needed to build upon.
The police force in the United Kingdom has evolved beyond just using social media for their public image. During the 2011 riots across major English cities, police made use of the intelligence emerging from social media networks (Crump, 2011). Rules of Engagement provided evidence that some police services were ‘utilising freeware and shareware Twitter analytics platforms to monitor tensions, rumours and incitement to disorder during the riots’ (Williams et al, 2013:465). Williams argued that the police did not at that time have the technical or operational capacity to make best use of the data that was flowing via the social media and rightly so as the national policing improvement agency had only just outlined the new strategy that the law enforcement should be following in 2010 (NPIA, 2010).
Social media is on the rise within the police force since august 2011 and its main purpose was for intelligence. The Rules of Engagement report (HMIC, 2011a) details within that the police services are using twitter analytics platforms to monitor tensions within the public. This was also confirmed by Umut Ertogral at the AusCERT information security conference, Umut runs the open source intelligence unit at The Metropolitan Police London. The unit has been deployed at major events such as the G20 conference and the London Olympics in which they use specific software to track trends, association of social media users and sentiment (Palmer, 2013).
During the London Olympics the open source intelligence unit monitored 32 million social media articles, with 10,300 tweets being processed every second during the opening ceremony (Ertogral, 2013). Umut states that sentiment analysis ‘isn’t very helpful and is probably less than 56 percent accurate’ this is because sentiment analysis doesn’t account for slang or humour. ‘A universal definition of humour is hard to achieve, because different people hold different understandings of even the same sentence’ (Yang et al, 2015:2367). In 2013 Umut and his team of 17 were trying to build social networks of who is connected to whom via Facebook; however the more connections that were made, the next difficulty was how to handle the noise within the network. The suggestion was to make a push forward with specific user targeting and then building the connections from there. Problems then arise when you look exactly at the scale. A recent Ofcom report states that ‘over eight in ten adults now use any type of device to go online’(Ofcom, 2014) and there is a team of only 17 people within the open source intelligence unit (Ertogral, 2013).
It is clear that upon looking at the available literature regarding ethics issues and use of social media data that there is little of it, specifically on the topic of police use, it would be fair to say that the code of ethics that the police are using is out of the scope of this project. However in relation to this issue there have been a number of publications released detailing the procedures that the police are indeed undertaking and questioning the legality of these procedures. Notably XKeyscore which was talked about by Edward Snowden who is an ex- NSA employee, the tool is described to have the capabilities to collect ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’ (Greenwald, 2013).
Twitter has quite clearly stated within the terms of service that the content that the users decide to post still remains theirs, however the users are liable for the content they post and they understand that this content is viewable to the rest of the world as well as being available to others via the Twitter API (Twitter, 2016).
Recently there have been a number of terrorist plots foiled via twitter surveillance, a couple were arrested and charged for posting on twitter that they planned to bomb Westfield or a tube station within London (Whitehead, 2015). A more recent example of this would be where an individual had planned to launch a drive-by and ‘used Nike trainers as a code word for firearms’ (Guardian, 2016).
It is clear that these operations on social media are dearly needed, “Police have a duty to uphold the law and prevent and detect crime,” (Wright, 2013). However, the correct way to go about it is still a grey area as Eric King the head of research at Privacy International points out ‘Surveillance operations often require a ministerial sign-off or permission from a superior but it is unclear whether targeting of public social media data requires the same level of oversight.’ (Wright, 2013).
This presents a very real problem however, which is if the terrorists start to realise that the law enforcement are indeed surveilling social media they will move off the platform onto a more private solution. A legal observer for the OccupyLSX movement, Janie Mac, states ‘We are all very aware that our accounts are being monitored. We’ve moved our social network activity to make it more private and we’ve moved away from traditional social sites for our online meetings and discussions’ (Wright, 2013).
To conclude; within the “law enforcement” section of this literature review it is clear from the sheer amount of usage of social media throughout law enforcement all over the world that it has now been accepted and has proved its worth by protecting the public. Meijer and Thaens (2013) have researched how three different police departments spread across America and Canada use social media and compares and contrasts between them, but it all boils down to general branding and public perception however, Umut Ertogral (2013) is pushing forward with the different types of techniques that can be used to catch criminals before they act and seems to be trying every avenue. He concludes that him and his team need to evolve yet again to keep track of the criminals by single user targeting, rather than the less effective sentiment analysis, however this brings to light that this isn’t entirely possible on a mass scale.
Within the “Ethics Issues” section of this literature review it is apparent that criminals do indeed use social media to express or communicate their plans with other individuals, it would seem that the need for surveillance is of high importance. Twitter terms of service have confirmed that the information that these individuals have posted is available to the world (Twitter, 2016). Janie Mac poses a very good point however, which is that these types of people know that the police are monitoring these types of tweets so what’s to stop them moving to a more private solution (Wright, 2013).
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