Investigators may use aliases on social media sites to aid in undercover investigations, the NYPD said last week.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly issued the five-page memo outlining rules for undercover investigators’ use of social media. According to the memo, investigators may register fake names on social media sites such as Facebook and use untraceable NYPD laptops.
This strategy is not new to law enforcement agencies. For years, police have assumed fake identities to arrest pedophiles.
An article from the The Guardian described how undercover police in Manhattan have used online chat rooms to track those who commit sexual crimes online. According to a USA Today article. Now investigators have also been seen on Facebook, expressing the increase in social media use in police investigations.
But Clay Shirky, an NYU professor of new media , said policing in the United States has a terrible record of spying on groups that are simply exercising their right to peacefully assemble.
“The question here isn’t so much a generic invasion of privacy, as a question for legal doctrines concerning the police,” Shirky said. “Any relaxation of our vigilance at keeping undercover activities limited to narrow and formal investigations is likely to lead to abuses of the sort we’ve seen with the targeting of Muslims.”
Earlier this year, the NYPD were accused of spying on Muslim organizations and groups throughout the northeast, including student groups at NYU, Yale and Columbia.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said police infiltration of social media should be closely regulated.
“Electronic undercover work is fine,” Dunn said. “But we worry about the ease with the police can use deceit on the Internet to monitor private communications.”
CAS freshman Anne Dordai agrees. She thinks the new policies constitute an invasion of privacy due to the aliases.
“I think it’s unfair that police are exempt from laws the public has to follow because of their title or position in society,” Dordai said.
LSP freshman Pooja Desai had mixed views regarding the social media memo.
“In theory, they have good intentions, but at the end of the day, people are not going to be ok with this,” Desai said. “There needs to be a strong set of rules.”
Kevin Burns is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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