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British Police Use Facebook to Gather Evidence 128

Posted by timothy
from the nothing-at-all-creepy-about-that dept.
Amy Bennett writes "Move over police scanner and most-wanted poster. The Greater Manchester Police force has created a Facebook application to collect leads for investigations. The application delivers a real-time feed of police news and appeals for information. A 'Submit Intelligence' link takes a Facebook user to the police Web site where they can anonymously submit tips. Another link leads to the videos on YouTube featuring information on the police force, ongoing investigations and other advisories." As reader groschke writes, though, "Their access to user data raises significant civil liberties problems. They may be able to see more of your data than your friends or network members can — and you also expose your friends' data when you add the application. All without needing a subpoena or warrant."
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British Police Use Facebook to Gather Evidence

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  • by OverlordQ (264228) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @03:44AM (#23133172) Journal
    They may be able to see more of your data than your friends or network members can -- and you also expose your friends' data when you add the application

    Unless Facebook has given these people a special little hack into their API they can't get any more then any other facebook app can, and depending on your privacy settings, can turn out to be not much at all.
    • and... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thermian (1267986)
      If you really object, you could, y'know, not install it in the first place.

      I might give it a look, if only to get a handle on what all the knee jerk armchair reactionists are complaining about
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Khaed (544779)
        Or you could not put private information up on a website.

        Seriously, people. It's a social website, a public website, and it doesn't need any of that information -- it's not like you have to use facebook to make internet purchases. I've never understood people who put information at places like that. Of course your privacy is going to be invaded. That's the damn point of the site... if you don't want the world to know it, don't transmit it over an unsecured connection to a website with a crummy privacy p
      • That's slashdot for you -- take an imaginary or self-created "privacy" issue and blow it out of proportion!
    • by mrbluze (1034940) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @07:55AM (#23133838) Journal

      TELEPHONE TRANSCRIPT:

      Victim: Burglars have been at my house and it's been ransacked and my five year old daughter has been kidnapped!

      Police officer: Hold on, how do you spell your name again *tap tap tap tap* .. oh wait, Google's working now.. whew!...

      Victim: There's blood on the kitchen floor and..

      Police officer: Yeah yeah.. whatever.. oh, I found pictures of your daughter, she was on facebook.

      Victim: Facebook?

      Police officer: But I'm afraid we have no leads. She hasn't used her facebook account for a while.. oh well, sorry about that.

      Victim: So when am I going to see a police officer?

      Police officer: Well you can chat to me online.. do you have Yahoo?

      *CLICK*

      • The police now have a phone number meaning people can phone them up and report crimes. And people can give the police your telephone number so that they can phone you up and ask questions!

        Time to take the tinfoil hats off this is a tool for people that want it to report stuff to the police, not so different to a telephone number.
    • by couchslug (175151)
      "They may be able to see more of your data than your friends or network members can -- and you also expose your friends' data when you add the application"

      They don't see any of MY data, because I don't use Facebook.
      It's a simple choice between vanity or privacy.
    • But I think the bigger problem is that the Facebook app effectively recruits users to become moles for the police. In the US, federal wiretap laws, etc. maintain that, generally, law enforcement cannot use information gathered online w/out a warrant at trial. Yet, courts have carved out an exception to this rule in cases where a third party Internet user obtains incriminating information from a user online and hands it over to authorities. For instance, child pornography found on a user's hard drive by a th
  • Uhhh...so? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2008 @03:46AM (#23133182)
    Dear god no! You reveal information to a public web site, and the police can read it without a warrant!

    I'm as slippery slope as the next guy, but I see a huge difference between information placed on Facebook and limitles wiretaps. Or unreasonable searches. Or your passenger having $10 in pot can lead to the police taking, and selling, your car.

    If you're trying to dodge an arrest warrant, well, perhaps you shouldn't be posting on Facebook, or driving erratically, or advertising on TV, or accepting that offer for free (insert whatever tickets/crap the police come up with).
    • by _Shad0w_ (127912)

      Dear god no! You reveal information to a public web site, and the police can read it without a warrant!

      Well at least somebody gets it.

    • ...I make shit up on my personal pages and use doctored images for alibis. Also, I make fake pages of people I don't like and make up incriminating evidence.

      Actually I don't because I don't have an online social site anymore blog or Facebook, but my point is that if people were smart, they'd not post incriminating information and if they were really smart they'd make shit up. Back in the day before Myspace and even Livejournal I had an E/N blog which I realized family and friends were reading so I would mak
      • by Reziac (43301) *
        Given the hyperbolic nature of so many social-networking-site posts, they'd be more accurately regarded as the fiction section of an online public library, not a factual reference.

        However, the cops and the courts don't always care, so long as they can label it "evidence".

  • At least let your wannabe police overloads work for the data they need to rule over you.
    • by s7uar7 (746699)
      Exactly. They're getting nothing out of me until they've beaten me at least twice at Scrabble.
  • Anonymous? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daliman (626662) <slashdot@ o n t h e r o a d . net.nz> on Sunday April 20, 2008 @03:56AM (#23133202) Homepage

    Somehow I have my doubts that any "anonymous" tips would really be all that anonymous...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    they get people to enter information about themselves and then record everything they can think to record, analyze the data, and .. what? sell the results to advertisers?
    • I'd assume the adverts are targeted yes, but I don't actually know because I have an ad-blocker installed. You can install 'applications' and then choose how much information you wan the application to install, and then you get asked (or sometimes required, which is a pain in the ass) to invite a bunch of friends to install the app. Bebo does the same thing.
      • I'd assume the adverts are targeted yes, but I don't actually know because I have an ad-blocker installed. You can install 'applications' and then choose how much information you wan the application to install, and then you get asked (or sometimes required, which is a pain in the ass) to invite a bunch of friends to install the app. Bebo does the same thing.

        I also have adblock installed, but when I occasionally browse facebook from other computers, I noticed something interesting: after changing my Relationship Status to "In a Relationship" (from the previous "Single"), I suddenly stopped seeing adds for "meet a woman" websites. They vanished completely, whereas before it was all I ever saw.

        Could be a coincidence. Could be.

        • Probably not a coincidence, and that's a great example of how it should be fine for advertisers to get some of your info. When I was in a long term relationship a coupla years ago I was getting pretty pissed off at all the 'singles' ads on MSN and such like, because they were of no interest to me, and usually just come across as really sleazy.
        • by Snowmit (704081)
          Not a coincidence. When my status went to "engaged" suddenly every second stupid ad was about wedding photography services in my home city.
  • by explodingspleen (1267860) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @04:00AM (#23133210)

    "Their access to user data raises significant civil liberties problems. They may be able to see more of your data than your friends or network members can â" and you also expose your friends' data when you add the application. All without needing a subpoena or warrant."

    Alright, we obviously don't understand what either of these are.

    A subpoena is a court order for information. If you are able to provide it and don't, there will be trouble. This doesn't mean such information can't be handed over voluntarily at any time.

    A warrant grants a privilege to the police to forcibly obtain information they would otherwise not be allowed to obtain through force. But you don't need a warrant when you have cooperation.

    The best example I could give probably is this: you need a warrant to tap someone's phone line. You *don't* need a warrant to put a microphone on an undercover agent and try to cajole the information out of the guy, or to bug a hotel room and arrange a meeting there, or to go knocking door to door at the guy's neighbors' houses making inquiries.

    Your problem should be with "Facebook" who is currently selling out its homies to cash in as an informant.

    • Don't worry, it's not self-incrimination until the court forces you to friend the detectives.
    • While you're technically true, one line "You *don't* need a warrant to put a microphone on an undercover agent and try to cajole the information out of the guy" is false in certain areas. Some states require both people to know that they're being recorded, others require only one person, and others, like mine, only require that someone along the way, be it you, the other guy, or some telephone company, know.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hacker (14635)

      A warrant grants a privilege to the police to forcibly obtain information they would otherwise not be allowed to obtain through force. But you don't need a warrant when you have cooperation.

      ...or live in the USA.

      This article is about the UK, where these things called "warrants" actually have some sort of meaning or value. Here in the US, they no longer do. We have "retroactive warrants" and "FISA" to get around that.

      Basically in the USA in today's administration, we have two approaches:

      They raid y

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @04:02AM (#23133212)
    Since this is obviously suppose to be about helping the police catch criminals, I fail to see the problem here..
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Dude, *everything* is always supposed to be about helping the police catch criminals. Have you ever seen a politician say "we want to limit your freedoms for no particular reason other than that we can"?

      I'm not sure whether this particular story is big or not, but to say that it isn't because the police claim it's only about catching criminals... that's breathtakingly naive.
      • D but to say that it isn't because the police claim it's only about catching criminals... that's breathtakingly naive.
        Call me naive, but why else would a cop care about ANYTHING on my social networking site, other than how to find me and arrest me? Are you suggesting that bored cops just pick random Facebook users to go find and arrest (I know the answer is no, but what in the hell is naive about reality?)
  • You add the application, and you give it a bunch of permissions. You don't like that? Don't add it. End of story, now shut up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sique (173459)
      ... and you have to forbid all your friends to add that application too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jimicus (737525)
        Alternatively, don't put something on the web that you wouldn't be happy showing to a room full of strangers, regardless of so-called "privacy" options (which have been shown time and again to be broadly meaningless).
      • by ADRA (37398)
        ... or find said application which you detest out of principle and hit 'block application'. Its not rocket science.
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @04:20AM (#23133262)
    Your free to not install the app. your free to not even be on facebook. this might end up catching crooks.

    i'm not seeing how this is a privacy or civil rights issue. how about these people put their efforts to a better cause.

  • by moteyalpha (1228680) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @04:21AM (#23133268) Homepage Journal
    So now children on Facebook will assume that it is safe to give information to a person who poses as a policeman or someone who has a similar logo. Children should not be asked to defend themselves. Let the police do their own work. I guess it gives them an excuse to browse the internet while they are having a donut. Yep Sarge, this pron site has lots of leads.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2008 @04:34AM (#23133284)
      I wonder how long until the first scammer starts posting with a police logo to blackmail children into paying cash money to the scammer or else they will reveal to their parents that they smoke weed or whatever.

      I mean, #1 is don't post anything publicly that you wouldn't say to your own mother (says the AC, ha ha).

      But I'll bet this can be exploited, and will be in the future.
    • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @05:51AM (#23133492)

      So now children on Facebook will assume that it is safe to give information to a person who poses as a policeman or someone who has a similar logo.

      If a policeman is asking you questions, the chances are he's investigating either you or someone you know. Consequently, it is never safe to give information to a policeman, unless you know that they aren't trying to get you or anyone you care about.

      The same, of course, goes to anyone and anything that can be rasonably expected to be trying to "catch" people: all intelligence agencies, insurance companies, private investigators, people in the middle of a nasty divorce, etc.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Angostura (703910)
        Yeh, right. Two weeks ago, the police came around and asked me whether I had heard any shouting from next door, because a woman had been beaten up. Clearly I should have told them nothing. I didn'tknow it was part of a ruse to get at me.
        • If a policeman is asking you questions, the chances are he's investigating either you or someone you know. Consequently, it is never safe to give information to a policeman, unless you know that they aren't trying to get you or anyone you care about.

          Yeh, right. Two weeks ago, the police came around and asked me whether I had heard any shouting from next door, because a woman had been beaten up. Clearly I should have told them nothing. I didn'tknow it was part of a ruse to get at me.

          Do you know if you care about the people next door?

          And do you know if the law requires you to lend assistance to people in distress? If you heard shouts and did nothing, you might have been criminally negligent in your duty to intervene.

          • by Angostura (703910)
            I don't know the people next door - they only moved in two weeks ago and I haven't seen them since. I didn't hear any shouting, since the incident happened when I was away. But yes I do intervene to help people in distress, irrespective of what the law says. By your rules I should have refused to tell the police anything since, with my tinfoil hat on it could have been a ruse.

            Luckily for society, neither I nor many others work by your rules.
            • by Snowmit (704081)

              Luckily for society, neither I nor many others work by your rules.
              What would make a great t-shirt slogan. The best part is that people of all political stripes would think that it applied to them and buy it. You'd have to make different fonts for the different groups though. Distressed font for teens and anarchists, wavy flag stripes n stars for Republicans and action movie heroes.
    • If your hasn't been trained to 'defend themself' online, they shouldn't be online. The same as you wouldn't let your kid wander around some shady area of town alone unless they had .. well.. I can't think of any training or weaponry that would be sufficient for me to be happy with any kid I know wandering around alone.
    • by pbhj (607776)

      So now children on Facebook will assume that it is safe to give information to a person who poses as a policeman or someone who has a similar logo.
      Those kids are already giving their details away to anyone who creates a "send a monkey/whatever to your friends" app.. I trust the police more than I trust a randomly chosen web programmer.

  • ...we could always have the Manchester police force try to help us locate Karl Pilkington [pilkipedia.co.uk]! They might even be willing to help put up posters [blogspot.com] to help catch him if Facebook users are willing to help. Sorry, I couldn't resist naming that famous Mancunian, given the fact that we're discussing Manchester.
  • remove the mob wars application!
  • by OakLEE (91103) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @05:24AM (#23133434)
    I'm as much a civil libertarian as the next guy, but let's get one thing straight:

    Nobody has any expectation of privacy (reasonable or otherwise) in information they put on a website that is publicly accessible to other people.

    If you write on a friend's facebook wall about how you got this "killer deal on pot" or how you "got this totally awesome handjob from a local hooker" and police find out and charge you, it's your own damn fault for being an idiot.

    Furthermore, if you buddy wants to play confidential informant and sell you out to the government, that's a problem between you and your buddy, not between you and the government.

    If you don't want police (or anyone) prying into your business, don't make information about said business publicly accessible.
    • by jez9999 (618189) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @08:08AM (#23133878) Homepage Journal
      If you write on a friend's facebook wall about how you got this "killer deal on pot" or how you "got this totally awesome handjob from a local hooker" and police find out and charge you, it's your own damn fault for being an idiot.

      Actually, it's the law's fault for making these harmless actions crimes.
      • by OakLEE (91103)
        You're totally missing the point.

        What if the message was "I totally fingered this passed out chick behind the Chi Omega house," or "I seriously jacked up this bum who asked me for change." That better for ya?
        • sending it right now... O-a-k-L-E-E.... they have been looking for that bum-jacker for a while
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @05:31AM (#23133452)
    Ahhh, right. So now all the Manchester police can claim to be following up leads when they're caught playing around in facebook at work. No wonder the general public is so hacked off - when police stats. show that they spend less than 13% of their time actually out of the police station, catching criminals.

    I wonder what the quality of the "leads" they get will be. I would expect it's more likely to be from disaffected children using facebook who are annoyed with something their friends have done and report them out of spite.

    Personally I think this looks like one of those great ideas that was dreamed up to make them look trendy and "in touch". I'd give it 6 months before it's quietly dropped under an initial tide of spam, false leads and time wasters, followed by complete and utter apathy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      So do you manage by spreadsheet as well? because 13% of the time "catching criminals" is pretty meaningless.
    • by Macthorpe (960048)

      No wonder the general public is so hacked off - when police stats. show that they spend less than 13% of their time actually out of the police station, catching criminals.

      This isn't really the police's fault. Government 'targets' are set in the most meaningless fashion possible to ensure that real crimes remain unsolved and less policeman have time to actually go out and arrest criminals. When they do, it's worth just as much to them to give a guy a caution for having weed on them, as it is to stop a pub brawl or prevent a murder.

      The damage needs to be repaired at the source before the police can finally prioritise to doing real work.

      And yes, I agree this idea is useless an

      • I don't think it's any more useless than facebook itself. You don't always know if something's gonna be a flop or not until it all pans out. If I lived in Manchester I'd have a better informed opinion of whether it will in fact be useful or not. To some citizens (nosy people and busybodies) it will probably be quite fun.
    • 13% of who's time? Patrolmen on the beat, or the receptionist's or chief constable? How does being outside help them get their mounds of paperwork filed as well (which is a lot of the reason that I cba to be a policeman even though I then get to 'legally' drive fast and double park - well.. that and the pay sucks)?
      • by petes_PoV (912422)
        > 13% of who's time

        Consider this:

        Police officer: person who is difficult to recruit, needs training to be responsible for special powers (arrest, driving too fast etc.) expensive to run due to equipment needs.

        Administrator: very common, easy to recruit, no special training needed, cheap to employ.

        It makes no economic sense to use police officers to do menial administration tasks. An efficient organisation would have people using their specialisations and leaving the unqualified work to cheaper, low

        • by Angostura (703910)
          Consider this, you said "13% of time out of the station" are you claiming that any time inside the station must be "menial administration"?
        • It's a PITA, but they do have to record everything they do in case it comes up in court or whatever. Personal cameras as part of the uniform could be a better way of doing that though.. it sure would cut down a lot on corruption in the Police and that kind of thing, and save time writing up reports!
    • by kraut (2788)
      I think the rank and file police are equally hacked off about the situation...I don't think many coppers took the job because they like paperwork. This http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wasting-Police-Time-Crazy-World/dp/0955285410/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208716095&sr=8-1 is an amusing read.

      Blame our New Labour overlords, not the coppers
  • by owlnation (858981) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @06:57AM (#23133638)
    The police already tried this on MySpace. All they found were glittery ponies.
  • Dear everyone else (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    We hope you take this as a sign that you should stop using Facebook.

    Sincerely, Internet users who don't care for circlejerks.
  • ...then it's public information. Electronic publishing by its very nature precludes any rights, real or imagined, to privacy. But, like any other information on the internet, it's to be taken with a pinch of salt. I for one wouldn't trust for evidence.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    the claiming of .. the seizing of .. the power .. the Authority .. the RIGHT ..

    to enact legislation .. to pass laws .. to the setting of the social standard .. to the setting of the moral standard .. by a so-called democratic process of representational governance ..

    established by a simple majority .. which in most cases is far less than 50% of the populous .. especially when close to 7% of the living population of america have been incarcerated .. and were Blacks constitute only 12.9 percent of america's t
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @09:05AM (#23134050) Homepage

    Since it seems unlikely people on Facebook are going to confess to be being a major drug trafficker, or show video clips of their last home invasion rape and robbery, I can't really see the value to society of wasting law enforcement resources clogging up the criminal justice system with the parade of Facebook petty crimes.

    I don't know about the UK, but here in the states our criminal justice system is full. We have enough people in jail, more than enough people getting tagged with arrest records over fairly minor infractions. We need law enforcement to focus on the big problems and not be looking for reasons to dump some otherwise law-abiding person into the criminal justice meat grinder because they copped to some petty crime in Facebook.

    And we need to de-criminalize a wide swath of drug possession crimes. We're spending billions keeping people in jail for a few oz's of pot. It's really quite insane.

    • by pbhj (607776)

      And we need to de-criminalize a wide swath of drug possession crimes. We're spending billions keeping people in jail for a few oz's of pot. It's really quite insane.

      Got any evidence to back up those vague assertions?

      As my home was burgled by kids looking for stuff to sell so they could get their personal few oz's of pot (great for when you're chilling out in someone's car you've stolen, vandalising the local shops, trashing peoples homes, etc..) I say lock them up, if we don't pay now we pay more later.

      Their punishment? Well they got told off and had to do a few hours community service. My experience may be randomly skewed, but I don't think anyone is going to jail fo

      • "Got any evidence to back up those vague assertions?"

        You can easily find the evidence yourself. You are the one who seems not to believe it. Try using Google with a search term like; "U.S. state criminal penalties marijuana".

        "My experience may be randomly skewed, but I don't think anyone is going to jail for small time possession in the UK."

        I wouldn't know if your experience is randomly skewed but you are comparing apples to oranges. The poster stated they are in the US, not the UK. I have a friend in W
        • by pbhj (607776)
          sorry but as the article was about the Manchester police, I thought it was the Manchester, UK police and hence that the conversation was UK focussed.

          I forgot that the US is the centre of the universe for a moment there ;0)> apologies
          • I thought he stated pretty clearly that he was referring to the USA. Long before his post the US was brought into the discussion which shouldn't be surprising. I would bet most Slashdot folks are US citizens and most of us here in the US haven't traveled to the UK. There often is an attempt to parse a discussion in a framework we are familiar with as opposed to one we are not.

            I thought the Vatican was the center of the universe?
            • by pbhj (607776)

              I thought the Vatican was the center of the universe?
              It is too, lol.

        • by Reziac (43301) *
          And on a 3rd conviction in California, thanks to our wondrous "Three Strikes" law, he could find himself doing a mandatory 25 years.

          One judge stated that he was strictly enforcing the Three Strikes provisions to demonstrate just how ridiculous such a law is (meant for violent repeat offenders, but technically applies to even the most minor felonies). All well and good for demo purposes. Not so good for the poor bloke whose only "crime" was a 3rd incident of possesion of more than 1 ounce of pot (or whatever
    • Since it seems unlikely people on Facebook are going to confess to be being a major drug trafficker, or show video clips of their last home invasion rape and robbery, I can't really see the value to society of wasting law enforcement resources clogging up the criminal justice system with the parade of Facebook petty crimes.

      I know of at least one case in the U.S. that was solved because the perpetrators posted a video of them committing a crime. I believe it was a murder case (although it may have been a gangrape). I think I read about a second case, but I'm not as sure of that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kraut (2788)

      Since it seems unlikely people on Facebook are going to confess to be being a major drug trafficker, or show video clips of their last home invasion rape and robbery, I can't really see the value to society of wasting law enforcement resources clogging up the criminal justice system with the parade of Facebook petty crimes.

      In the UK we seem to have plenty of stupid criminals. A group of people beating someone up while filming it on their mobiles, and posting the evidence on social networking sites seems to be a common habit amongst our more detestable yoofs.

      I don't know about the UK, but here in the states our criminal justice system is full. We have enough people in jail, more than enough people getting tagged with arrest records over fairly minor infractions. We need law enforcement to focus on the big problems and not be looking for reasons to dump some otherwise law-abiding person into the criminal justice meat grinder because they copped to some petty crime in Facebook.

      And we need to de-criminalize a wide swath of drug possession crimes. We're spending billions keeping people in jail for a few oz's of pot. It's really quite insane.

      Yeah and Amen, brother. Good luck getting anyone in power to listen to the evidence though.

  • Any third party application you add to Facebook doesn't need a subpoena or warrant to access your personal and friend information back to the organization or company. That's the scary part. I would rather the police get it, however any of my foolish friends who sends the app to 25 friends (including myself) to get their love test results has exposed my information and possibly contextual relevancy about myself to god knows who, possibly even criminal organizations, and no doubt commercial entities who will
  • link takes a Facebook user to the police Web site where they can anonymously submit tips

    What could possibly go wrong?
  • WHAT is the problem???? If you got nothing to hide, what you scared of? You got a credit card? A driving licence? A blood doner card? A bank account? A post office account? What the hell do you think they DON'T already know about you. Grow up, get into the real world!!!!!
  • My biggest concern about police investigations isn't that they'll pin a crime on the wrong person, but rather police misconduct messing with the lives of innocent people.

    In my town, the police's closure rate is less than 30%. That means over 70% of reported crimes go unpunished. What's worse is that the officers are primarily interested in advancing their careers, so if you need a minor situation remedied, they don't even take a report. Realisticly you have at most a 1-in-8 chance of getting caught for

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