Editor : Martin Simamora, S.IP |Martin Simamora Press

Kamis, 19 Mei 2011

Is it time for the police to get social?

Nobody's immune: police officer on Facebook arrest

Policeman heading the investigation which led to arrest of a Fairfax Media journalist says nobody's immune, but admits they got their communications wrong. For a longer version: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/14777382
Social networking sites are a privacy free-for-all. They are the digital equivalent of an open-house party invitation. Anyone can stop by, be it for 30 seconds or for 30 minutes. Help yourself to whatever you like – photos, email addresses, relationship status, or even where you work. And you don't even have to say hello or goodbye.

For Generation Y, or the social-networking generation, they know nothing else other than to share personal information on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Asked to enter an email address, date of birth or their exact location and they happily oblige. Add a photo? Sure, it's the last piece of the online identification puzzle.
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In reality, patterns of social networking use and the sharing of personal information have completely outpaced any regulation and its subsequent enforcement.

But do we need really need a digital policeman? Should governments and law enforcement agencies seek to protect individuals online?

There is a compelling case for regulation or a degree of oversight on social networking sites especially around issues of defamation, cyber security and cyber bullying. However, this must be the last line of defence not the first. The real burden has to fall on the individual user.

Put bluntly, most individuals need to be far more cognisant about what they share online and who might be accessing that information.

There are two recent incidents that highlight the quandary between individual responsibility and online regulation.

The first is the reporting of the Facebook group The Brocial Network. With 8000 members and rising, the ''men only'' group contains hundreds of images of scantily-clad women obtained from personal photo albums and profile pictures. There is no suggestion that the images were obtained illegally.

Most of the images have been publicly obtained through ''friends of friends''. But as one user put it: ''I'm a little bit angry, to be honest. If it was one of my friends who has copied a photo of me to put on a public website and not let me know then I'd feel extremely betrayed.''

While many people might ask why some users feel the need to post images of themselves wearing very little online, there is a more pressing concern and that is how the images were so freely shared. If seeking any type of legal recourse, the owners of the original images will, in all likelihood, be asked why their privacy settings were so lenient?

The second incident, and one that is even more alarming, is the arrest of Fairfax journalist Ben Grubb yesterday at an IT security conference on the Gold Coast. During the conference cyber security expert Christian Heinrich gave a demonstration on how to access protected photos on Facebook.

Grubb was arrested soon after the publication of a piece online that gave details of the session and the aforementioned privacy breach.

It remains unclear as to why exactly Grubb was arrested. He was hardly providing any insight to hardened hackers or would be cyber stalkers. Worse still, police took Grubb's iPad from him for investigation. How is this any different from taking a journalist's notebook?

The manner in which the Queensland Police has handled this incident demonstrates that it is not only individuals that need social networking education. Detaining a journalist will not help prevent breaches in cyber security - understanding the way in which these networks operate and how users communicate will.

Stranger danger has moved online. It poses more threats to more people more often. If only there was a warning sign – do you really want to share this information?


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