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The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

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Fighting Crime in the Digital Age

Posted May 27, 2010 3:00 AM by Sharkles

For better or for worse, many people are now living their lives openly online. While many people understand social media etiquette and appropriate levels of disclosure, many do not. For the latter, living in a connected world can have some serious drawbacks, especially if they're a criminal.

The Dumb and the Restless
Refraining from posting on social media sites about crimes committed may seem common sense, but the web is already littered with stories of people whose common sense must've been lacking when they incriminated themselves to their entire online networks.

A FOX News story tells the story of a 19-year old Pennsylvania boy who in the midst of a burglary stopped and accessed his Facebook account. Unfortunately for him, he forgot to close his account when he was finished.

However, criminals don't leave a webpage open to get caught. In March, a New Jersey boy made headlines when he used the intercom at a local Wal-Mart to ask "all the black people to leave." State police were able to search social media sites for related posts and found the kids "bragging."

Yet another case of social media justice took place in Surprise, Arizona where Facebook and Craigslist were used to catch a thief and return stolen goods to their rightful owner. After buying a watch on Craigslist, the buyer discovered that it was registered to someone else. He began to contact Facebook users with that name to find the owner and was successful. The buyer was able to identify the man by police lineup, and the thief was apprehended.

Online Law Enforcement
For law enforcement and government agencies, social media websites are information goldmines. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit digital rights advocacy group, has been researching how these agencies are using social media to fight crime.

The EFF released a document from the U.S. Justice Department, which outlines the ways that government is using social media to track users and entice them to provide details, often with undercover agents posing as "friends." The document entitled "Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites" provides details on various social networks, how they operate, and how to get information from profiles on each site.

Ethics Called Into Question
Law enforcement is also trying to issue subpoenas to social media sites for information about users. For example, The New York Times reports that authorities in Pennsylvania are trying to subpoena Twitter for the names of two users who criticized the state's attorney general. Although Twitter has not complied with the order, this case is being protested by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania as a violation of freedom of speech.

What are your thoughts on online crime fighting? Are law enforcement's social media strategies unfair, or should criminals know better than to post incriminating information online if they don't want to be caught?


"About EFF." Web. 24 May 2010. <>

"Cyber Crime." Online Image. February 2003. TCU Magazine. 26 May 2010.


Hofmann, Marcia. "EFF Posts Documents Detailing Law Enforcement Collection of Data from Social Media Sites." 16 March 2010. Web. 24 May 2010.

Lynch, John and Jenny Ellickson. "Obtaining and Using Evidence from Social Networking Sites." Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section. Web. 24 May 2010.

Macedo, Diane. "Caught Web-Handed: Social Media Become Valuable in Crime-Fighting." 18 March 2010. Web. 24 May 2010.

McCullough, Jolie. "Social Media Helps Catch Thief, Return Item." 18 March 2010. Web. 24 May 2010.


Schwartz, John. "Twitter Fighting Pennsylvania Subpoena Seeking Names of 2 Tweeters." The New York Times. 20 May 2010. Web. 24 May 2010.


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United States - Member - Lifelong New Yorker Popular Science - Biology - Animal Science Technical Fields - Technical Writing - Technical Writer

Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 2409
Good Answers: 59

Re: Fighting Crime in the Digital Age

05/27/2010 7:33 AM

I'm not sure how I feel about some of these things, but I have a story to share.

Earlier in the month I was visiting Seattle. My mom and I were driving through a few of the state parks about an hour east of the city. We left our rental car for five minutes to take some pictures of a waterfall. When we returned to the vehicle we discovered it had been broken into and her purse had been stolen (nothing else had been touched).

She was contacted via Facebook last week by a woman whose husband had found her ID, credit card, and insurance card on the side of the road while he was out running. The woman offered to mail them to her so my mom could ensure they were destroyed. (My mother had obviously already closed the accounts and ordered new cards; in fact I had all of her money-related accounts deactivated while we were waiting for the sheriff to arrive.)

It was nice that someone would take the time to do that - and that technology makes it so easy to connect with someone at the opposite end of the continent. The woman even offered to look for my mom's purse in the woods around where the cards were found. (I hold no hope for my big Canon lens which had also been in the bag, or for my mom's cell phone. Although my mother is attempting to use Craiglist...)

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Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Canada
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Re: Fighting Crime in the Digital Age

05/28/2010 6:14 AM

If the internet can be used to fight crime, bring it on.

The protection of privacy is important and I respect the EFF for their efforts. But when it comes to criminals who do violence to others, I do not respect their right to keep it private. There should be agreement about where to draw the line, IMHO private activity which is not harmful to others and does not infringe the rights and freedoms of others must be respected, but violent activity that infringes the rights of others must be prosecuted by all means.

I am of the opinion that legislation supposedly protecting our privacy by limiting police investigations and access to warrants, pushes police instead to rely on private sources of "intel" which have their own proprietary interests in play. The police then protect and trust private sources and protect persons or agencies involved in illegal surveillance activity, by overlooking or failing to investigate criminal breaches by these 'partners'. At least that is the impression I have of the situation in Canada. Apparently the laws governing "legitimate" private "surveillance" activities are somewhat a grey area and vary from one jurisdiction to another. That is in addition to the fact that organized crime is itself extensively involved in surveillance (according to CISC) and therefore able to offer 'intel' and form partnerships with police for mutual benefit, thereby corrupting the police mandate of public protection.

I think privacy rights would be better protected by giving the police ready access to information and/or warrants, but limiting their prosecution ability (and mandate to pursue) in case of the so-termed victimless "crimes". The enforcement of the law should be strictly focused on eradicating violent crime and organized crime and terrorism. I think we'd be better off if the gathering of "intel" was limited to persons sworn to serve and protect and uphold our constitutional rights.

incus opella

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Re: Fighting Crime in the Digital Age

05/28/2010 8:03 AM

Recently I recd a. e-mail reading as under:-

This is a new scam.... best to be aware about it.....let your family members know about this.
Dear all

I cannot stop myself from sharing this with all of you.

Its all started when I received a call from someone claiming that he was from my mobile service provider and he asked me to shutdown my phone for 2 hours for 3G update to take place. As I was rushing for a meeting, I did not question and shutdown my cell phone.

After 45 minutes I felt very suspicious since the caller did not even introduce his name. I quickly turned on my cell phone and I received several calls from my family members and the others were from the number that had called me earlier - 3954380.

I called my parents and I was shocked that they sounded very worried asking me whether I am safe. My parents told me that they had received a call from someone claiming that they had me with them and asking for money to let me free. The call was so real and my parents even heard 'my voice' crying out loud asking for help. My parent was at the bank waiting for next call to proceed for money transfer. I told my parents that I am safe and asked them to lodge a police report.

Right after that I received another call from the guy asking me to
shutdown my cell phone for another 1 hour which I refused to do and hung up. They keep calling my cell phone until the battery had run down. I myself lodged a police report and I was informed by the officer that there were many such scams reported. MOST of the cases reported that the victim had already transferred the money! And it is impossible to get back the money.

Be careful as this kind of scam might happened to any of us!!! Those guys are so professional and very convincing during calls. If you are asked to shut down your cell phone for updates by the service provider, ASK AROUND! Your family or friends might receive the same call.

Be Safe and Stay Alert!

Please pass around to your family and friends

"Engineers should not look for jobs but should create jobs for others" by Dr.Radhakrishnan Ex President of India during my college graduation day
Anonymous Poster
In reply to #3

Re: Fighting Crime in the Digital Age

05/28/2010 2:32 PM

Thanks for the tip !

I guess it's the same everywhere, if you are lucky, it will be just a competitor of your service provider asking you to switch with them.

It clearly points to someone disclosing customers information for money.

When I receive such calls, I ask them how they've got my number, that usually ends the call.


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