Many St. Louis residents post extensive personal information on Facebook each day, with the intention of sharing that information with their friends. Facebook profiles contain a wealth of information on where someone has been, who they were with, what their mood was like, often with photo accompaniments. While many people keep their pages private, constantly changing privacy standards on the site can make it difficult to keep your information under lock and key at all times.
Law enforcement officers have astutely taken note of this phenomenon, and are now checking for public posts from Facebook and other social networking sites to use as evidence of a crime or to affect an arrest warrant for someone. This tactic has led many privacy advocates to ask - is this right?
A recent case out of the Pacific Northwest provides an interesting example of police officers using information from Facebook to ultimately arrest a suspect. Local reports indicate that police became suspicious of the man after a string of similar burglaries in the area, and sought him out because he had a history of these types of crimes. Officers checked his Facebook page, where he had posted a provocative comment about the police. Officers then used information he had posted about an upcoming party to locate the man in a place where they could lawfully arrest him, and took him into custody.
Arrests in public are one exception to the requirement that police obtain a warrant before arresting someone. Public arrests happen frequently in protest situations or other circumstances where officers have an interest in crowd control to protect the public safety. However, officers who have probable cause may also wait for a suspect to leave their home (where they have a high degree of protection from police intervention) before taking them into custody for further questioning.
Location information on social networking sites makes it easy for officers to know when someone will be leaving their home, making them vulnerable to arrest. But should officers be allowed to use this information?
Source: Seattle Pi, "Prosecutors: King County has 'burglary epidemic'" Casey Mcnerthney, June 5, 2012.