Why Are Cops Asking for Twitter, Google User Data?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 31, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We now know for certain that police are tracking us on social media. First Google put out its report on police requests for user data, and now Twitter has also released its numbers. The number of requests for both platforms is high.

Both companies also noted that while some requests come with a warrant, many more come with a subpoena that doesn't require a judge's approval.

We know that police want the information, and in many cases they're able to get it. So what are they looking for in your social media accounts?

Not to merely state the obvious, but they're looking for information that's not open to the public. Setting your posts to "private" won't keep them away from police.

As for the specifics, police are generally looking for evidence of crime in their current investigations. Those may be linked to a specific charge, or they may be part of an effort to arrest a suspect.

It's not just the content of your posts that are useful although those can obviously provide evidence of a crime. They're also looking for other things such as:

  • Aliases or nicknames. To determine if you're linked to a crime by an alternate name.

  • Location information. IP addresses where you log in or make posts can tell police where you were at any given time.

  • Contact information. Your email addresses and phone numbers may be tied to a crime. Through a data request police can find what accounts you're using.

  • Known associates. It might not be you that police are looking for, but rather your friends. Your online connections could be evidence or the basis of an investigation.

It seems that Twitter and Facebook are making police work for this information, but that doesn't necessarily mean all social media platforms will. It also won't stop police from getting information if they have a warrant or a valid court order.

The best course of action is to stop thinking about social media as private space. What you say online can have a lasting impact because it can't be easily erased.

Police aren't going to stop making requests for user data, and social media platforms can't always say "no" under the law. So take control and make your profile less interesting to law enforcement.

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