Social media endangering undercover police work

We frequently read stories about law enforcement using social media to find and arrest criminals, but criminal organizations are also using online tools to help identify undercover police officers that try to infiltrate their ranks. With the growing use of facial recognition technology, it’s becoming easier to identify people online based purely on a picture.

As reported on TechWorld, former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty discussed these dangers at a security conference in Sydney, Australia. The problem is that nearly everyone is using social media these days: Based on a recent survey, 90 percent of female officers and 81 percent of male officers were registered on at least one site and over 70 percent of the people admitted to using the sites on at least a weekly basis.

More alarming is that even people who don’t upload pictures of themselves to the Internet are still vulnerable. The survey found that 85 percent of respondents had their photos uploaded by someone else. This is dangerous for not only the undercover officer but also their friends and family since it links everyone together, allowing criminal organizations to get detailed personal information on the officer. Indeed, 42 percent of people claimed that it would be possible to identify their relationships based on these photos.

This issue not only affects current undercover officers but also teenagers who may someday want to work in the field. According to Keelty, “the 16-year-olds of today who might become officers in the future have already been exposed. It’s too late [for them to take it down] because once it’s uploaded, it’s there forever.

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12 Comments

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I though that when you're undercover, you change your identity? Doesn't that just make common sense? I guess, in this case that we're talking about, why not just add an extra method for being undercover?...changing your physical appearance.

This could work the other ways as well. use the social network to upload the fake undercover identity and if anyone goes around poking, they will be more than convinced by finding all the facebook or google+ account with the fake undercover name and pictures.

And the solution: better privacy controls and privacy by default. That way, photos of police shouldn't be seen in public searches.

I don't have a social page..don't intend on ever getting one. I also don't allow my wife to put any thing related to me on her fb page. But this is a growing problem facing many people on many levels not just being hidden to the world but also causing issues with regular social interaction. Enter the recent article about twitter,fb and other means to communicate online are taking away of sports teams ability to have players play more as a group. They spend more time online and on fb for example than interacting with each other to know how the others think and react in a game situation such as CFB. If I was a coach at the college level I'd make it a rule you couldn't have them if you wished to play...just that simple.

Tartan said,
Just don't join social networks, problem solved.

"The survey found that 85 percent of respondents had their photos uploaded by someone else."

Read next time please

Glad I don't give a rat's ass about social media. If I get tired of being a programmer, I know I can be an undercover agent.

The 16 year old example is nonsense. If a 16 year old on Facebook stopped using the service before they became a policeman it would be no different to a 16 year old who stopped using the service before becoming a drug baron. Still, I wouldn't expect anything logical from Mick Keelty as the man's a halfwit.

Given the crimes that British police have committed whilst undercover here in the UK and in Germany I think it's probably a good thing if their activities are limited by social media. It could stop the next Mark Kennedy.

jakem1 said,
The 16 year old example is nonsense. If a 16 year old on Facebook stopped using the service before they became a policeman it would be no different to a 16 year old who stopped using the service before becoming a drug baron.

What? Drug barons aren't undercover. It's about hiding a different identity, not hiding elements of your existing one.

eh this doesn't affect the CIA's breeding programs, they keep them locked up underground until they are 18 anyways programming their directives....