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Monitoring Social Media for Law Enforcement Purposes

Another U.S. federal agency that uses social media monitoring to fight crime is the U.S. National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (Investigative Services Branch). Most investigations supported in 2015 focused on a series of auto burglaries in various parks. Other investigations included arson, homicide, vandalism, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. During the summer of 2014, social media brought national attention to a female graffiti artist who vandalized several parks. Photos obtained from the perpetrator’s social media accounts enabled intelligence analysts to provide the U.S. Attorney with a timeline of the illegal activity.

Intelligence services cover cell phone mapping, financial analysis, link analysis, telephone toll analysis, social media monitoring/analysis, timelines, and organizational charts. The Investigative Services Branch relies on several resources including Thompson Reuters CP CLEAR, Geofeedia, Google Earth Pro, El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), Analyst Notebook, Parcel Quest, Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC), TLO, Crimedex Online Law Enforcement Community, Regional Information Sharing System (RISS Network), Nuance Omniscan, Vigilant License Plate Reader, and facial recognition applications [4].

Social media sites and resources should be viewed as another tool in the law enforcement investigative toolbox and should be used in a manner that adheres to the same principles that govern all law enforcement activity. That is, actions must be lawful and personnel must have a defined objective and a valid law enforcement purpose for gathering, maintaining, or sharing PII. In addition, any law enforcement action involving undercover activity (including developing an undercover profile on a social media site) should address supervisory approval, required documentation of activity, periodic reviews of activity, and the audit of undercover processes and behavior. Law enforcement agencies should also not collect or maintain the political, religious, or social views, associations, or activities of any individual or group, association, corporation, business, partnership, or organization unless there is a legitimate public safety purpose [5]. Law enforcement use of social media warfare tactics to conduct investigations and identify criminals, such as child predators and pornographers, is discussed in greater depth in Chapter 13: “Law Enforcement Response to Social Media Warfare.”

A private social media investigator or consultant does not face as many restrictions as law enforcement officers do. A new breed of private investigator will look into the social media posts, status updates, photos, and conversations of an individual or group. Social media investigations are reportedly being used more and more in custody cases, divorces, and even criminal trials.

Private investigators and social media consultants search for key terms and posts to discover information required to support a client’s need. The process is similar to what was discussed previously in reference to homeland security and disaster response management. The process might include looking at the location tags for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, authenticating the posts, and determining what other individuals are associated with a case. Such an investigation often includes searching and setting up alerts for specific terms relating to the case under investigation.

In addition, corporations and investors hire private investigators or consultants to search and monitor social media sites for intelligence about competitors and to monitor potential insider leaks or evidence of employee misconduct.

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