Technological advances have given society the ability to communicate with people in ways that previous generations could not have imagined. But these tools bring out issues that people have always faced, and thrown them into new situations. One dilemma currently being debated is personal privacy versus public good.
Facebook, as usual, has found itself at the center of the dilemma. The social media site, which gets complaints regularly that its privacy settings do not do much to protect user privacy, freely acknowledges that they cooperate with law enforcement. Cooperating with law enforcement, in general, is a good principle to uphold. When it interferes with a person’s right to privacy, there may be a cause for concern.
The Boston Phoenix, an alternative paper, was researching a story on the Craigslist Killer when they came across his Facebook account that had been subpoenaed. The information handed over by Facebook consisted of pages upon pages of the user’s posts, photos he was tagged in, IP addresses he had logged in from, even data on which pages and people he had clicked on. Status updates and posts from years past were dredged up and provided to the police. Relevance to the charges was not required.
Even without subpoenas, law enforcement can use Facebook on an unofficial level. There is currently a man in the state of Washington, Travis Nicolaysen, who is being tracked by police. Nicolaysen, who is on probation as part of the sentence from his 5 felony convictions, has been charged with failing to check in with his probation officer in over 3 months, and with a recent domestic violence charge. While evading police, Nicolaysen is still finding time to update his Facebook account with thanks for those who warned him police were coming and taunts for law enforcement officials who have not captured him.
It is more than criminal cases that are turning to Facebook. Divorce and custody cases include screen shots and printouts of Facebook activity almost as a matter of course. Posts with innocent intentions become ammunition for mediations and court battles.
Bottom line? Anything you say on Facebook- or Twitter, MySpace, even a comment on a news piece- lasts forever. Unlike a person to person conversation, where memories may fade and witnesses be doubted, the digital files stick around, holding your exact words, with no expiration date.
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