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Can a Facebook Post or a Google Search Put You in Prison?

Can a Facebook Post or a Google Search Put You in Prison?

We live in an era where many of us chronicle our lives on at least one-if not several-social media platforms. In many ways, social interactions have shifted to the digital space. Smartphones, which until two decades ago were just a distant figment in the minds of Sci-Fi movie makers, have become a necessity. But they are also increasingly becoming a double-edged sword because as long as you have one, you can never truly claim that you have privacy. While on one hand, data recovered from them helps solve crimes and put criminals away, the infringement of people’s privacy is an increasing cause for alarm. In the wrong hands, this information can really compromise safety.

Facebook and crime

Not many people think carefully about what they are posting on their digital channels and the possible implications. Here are a few examples of people who landed in jail because of their Facebook posts:

In February 2015, the police arrested Marcus Zander they thought to have robbed liquor stores around the Cincinnati area. During the preliminary investigation, the police reviewed call records from the stores. They quickly singled out a number that had called the stores about an hour before the robberies. When they typed the number into Facebook search, Zanders’ profile came up and there were photos and videos he had posted after each robbery proudly showing cash and liquor. He was ordered to surrender his smartphone and location data put him at the scene of the crimes and at the times when the crimes occurred. This data was used to convict him.

Google search history and crime

On June 29, 2016, Steven Ingalls was sentenced to 39 years in prison for neglect and conspiracy to commit murder related to the death of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son, Bryson Price. Bryson had Fragile X Syndrome and died of a Risperidone overdose. The mother to the child would be later sentenced to 36 years in prison over the same crime. Ingalls Google search history turned up searches like ‘I want to kill my autistic child’ and ‘painful ways to die.’ Prosecutors used these searches as evidence to put the two callous parents behind bars.

While these cases highlight extreme examples of the way social media can be used to put people behind bars, they provide an important reminder for everyone. Location data can be subpoenaed for inclusion in any court case. More subtle posts, like recent activities or time spent with associates, can also be used to build a case. The cases of Zander and Ingalls are two of several cases that have set precedent in the realm of digital forensics. With every technological advancement, there important losses to consider related to privacy. It takes diligence and attention to detail to ensure your digital privacy is maintained as much as possible in today’s online world.

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