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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Law enforcement on the social Web

These two stories illustrate how Web 2.0 has upsides and downsides for police too. It appears to be mostly upside, the way social-networking sites have become an investigative tool. The first story, from the Associated Press, is a very interesting one about how police not able to recognize credit card thieves in a Home Depot security video posted it on YouTube, "then emailed the clip's link to about 300 people and organizations. In this case, "the suspects were ultimately arrested," but - though the video generated publicity and thousands of viewings online – it was "old-fashioned police work" not YouTube that ultimately led to their arrests (the article relates another case, in London, Ontario, where YouTube figured more prominently in an arrest, and this one reported by WFSB TV in Connecticut). The other story is about how police, too, are the subject (negatively portrayed) of YouTube videos, the article continues. And bogus police profiles and pages have turned up on the Web. USATODAY reports that "at least 16 police or sheriffs' departments appeared to have profile pages on MySpace to seek investigative tips or deter predators, but USA TODAY found that at least six were fakes." As for the real ones, one is the Miami-Dade Police Department, which says that "more than 500 people have asked the department to be their friend" - in other words, to be on their MySpace friends' lists. The Department says people see it as a predator deterrent. But nothing beats helping kids develop the filter between their ears – their critical thinking. A Wyoming law enforcement officer told USATODAY that he "has seen people pose online as police officers to lure children into trusting them."

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