Friend Me- NYPD To Create Fake Online Profiles To Fight Crime
Police technique may too closely resemble stalking.
The NYPD has taken a lot of flak lately for its controversial stop-and-frisk policies. But it is cops' online behavior that should have more of us up in arms.
Today, what one grieving mother called the "biggest gang in New York" unveiled its latest strategy in fighting crime. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has issued a memo giving cops permission to create fake Facebook accounts to track potential leads and trace potential criminals.
The memo says officers can create online aliases to register on social media networks as part of their investigative work. The New York Daily News reports that the online profiles can be created on department-issued laptops whose Internet-access cards can’t be traced back to the NYPD. In simple terms, the NYPD now has full reign to stalk anyone it pleases -- just like that ex- who's been following you on Twitter under another name.
Kelly justifies the move by saying that this type of espionage can provide police with the tips they need to stop dangerous crimes.
Using social media to "fight crime" isn't a new concept for the NYPD. Last year, the department created a social media unit to scour the Web for leads. The police made news in August when they demanded that Twitter turn over the name of a user who threatened to attack the Broadway theater where Mike Tyson's one-man show, "Undisputed Truth," was playing. In May, the NYPD arrested 17 gang members and ended a yearlong crime spree after finding the suspects bragging about their robberies on Facebook.
The boys in blue can also hang their hat on their use of Twitter to foil plans for a August 2011 Crip picnic in Amersfort Park in Brooklyn.
But let's take a look at what has happened when the NYPD has "followed" people in real life:
Earlier this month, the NYPD acknowledged that a program that involved following and spying on Muslims resulted in no terrorist plots being uncovered.
In May 2012, the NYPD got hit with a lawsuit brought by the family of Brittany Rowley, after the 15-year-old honor student said officers followed, chased and beat her after mistaking her for a shoplifter.
In February 2012, the NYPD followed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham home after police suspected he had purchased drugs. An officer chased the teen into his bathroom where he shot and killed him. The officer now faces manslaughter charges.
In these cases, and many others like it, the police department is being held to account for its actions. But, now that cops have permission to troll for "suspects" on the Web, and in a way that can't be traced back to the department, who's to say that police won't abuse their power?
"Electronic undercover work is fine,” Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union tells the Daily News. “But we worry about the ease with which the police can use deceit on the Internet to monitor private communications. Police infiltration of social media should be closely regulated.”
Seeing as how NYPD officers in the past have been found guilty of everything from gun smuggling to sexual assault, and are frequently accused of racial profiling, why should citizens feel secure in the knowledge that a cop could potentially stalk them online and place them under arrest based on something they may have said on Facebook? New Yorkers are already crying foul over officers labeling teenagers as gang members for posting photos of themselves wearing matching bracelets on Instagram.
The NYPD already has some people afraid to walk the streets without being harassed. Sounds like they're going to scare away some others from going online as well.