MILTON, ON – Social media platforms from Twitter to Facebook are becoming more popular than ever, and they’re also giving investigators new tools to address crimes from insurance fraud to cargo theft and collisions.
Each post adds to a person’s overall electronic signature, says Maeve Davis, ISB MEE’s vice president – client services. Elements of that signature can then become evidence.
The information posted to a social networking site is no longer private, despite any privacy settings, she told a Private Motor Truck Council of Canada seminar on Thursday. Recognized friends can reveal important information simply by liking or sharing the posts, or tagging photos. Changes in lifestyles like new car purchases can also point to people who have been involved in thefts.
“That’s public information. That’s totally fair game,” she said. “No consent is required by the subject.”
Automated tools to mine the data becomes increasingly important given the growth in content. One out of nine people are on Facebook, while LinkedIn has 240 million users, she said as an example. An average social media check can require tracking 5,000 clicks in 24 hours. Although, some human attention is still required to offer some context for the data.
The data also must be properly captured and saved, Davis said of the investigations, referring to the need for consistent methods when downloading posts and ensuring a chain of custody. That will help to ensure evidence is considered objective and independent. There also needs to be some level of confidence that the right person is being tracked.
There are risks to completing such investigations yourself, rather than leaving it to the experts. Those who crawl through the posts are leaving behind their own meta data that can be traced to personal identities, she warned.
Geofencing is becoming an increasingly popular tool, tracking two years of social media activity posted near a specific location like the site of a theft. “It’s completely above-board, currently used by law enforcement, government agencies,” she added.
Tracking a collision in Thornhill, for example, investigators were able to locate dash cam footage posted on the same day. Digging into YouTube meta data, they found a username connected to a LinkedIn account, reached out to the person’s workplace, and secured a witness to the collision.
While not yet tested in a Canadian court, the evidence is already playing a role in mediated settlements, she said.