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Facebook as a crime fighting tool?

September 30th, 2007

hobbes jailMy aunt Marilyn forwarded me this interesting article: “Victim uses Facebook to finger suspect“. How would a victim use facebook to find an anonymous attacker and how does search using facebook differ from more traditional means? Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really delve into those issues but I thought I just share a few speculations.

First, facebook lets you browse pictures of people based on where they live. Each user and his or her friends usually keep pictures current. Second, you can view multiple pictures and video on many people that can help you get a better idea whether you have a match or not. Third, you can see groups and affiliations that might help you hone on someone who was more likely to commit a hate crime.

Unless you belong to the same network (e.g., attend the same school), you can currently only browse names and pictures. My best guess from this article is that the victim took the initiative to find the attacker, so I bet that both the victim and the attacker went to the same school.

But if facebook can be used to fight crime, should law enforcement have privileged access to it? And if so, how comfortable are we with public or secret investigations into broad swaths of innocent people? Finally and relatedly, how concerned should we be at the possibility of false positives (e.g., framing the wrong guy)? I don’t have answers to these questions, but I think we should follow cases like this one to see how well facebook works in practice as a crime fighting tool.

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  1. December 13th, 2007 at 13:42 | #1

    We actually used to Myspace to track down a killer. On Oct. 24, 2006, Dr. David Cornbleet was murdered by a one time former patient, Hans Peterson. Stabbed over 20 times, Dr. Cornbleet was found by his daughter later that night left for dead in a pool of his own blood. After killing Dr. Cornbleet, Hans Peterson fled to and hid in the French portion of St Martin, while at the same time Cornbleet\’s family assisted police by setting up an online campaign to track down the killer. Through a myspace profile a tip came in that broke the case open, a warrant was issued and soon after Hans Peterson confessed to the crime. Strategically though, he confessed to French authorities on the island betting on the fact that since his Mother was French he would not be sent back to the US to face trial. So far that is exactly what has happened. Visit http://www.drcornbleet.com to learn more.

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