Special Issue: Social Media
Social media sites are increasingly being used to instigate or conduct criminal activity, and law enforcement personnel should understand the concept and function of these sites, as well as know how social media tools and resources can be used to prevent, mitigate, respond to, and investigate criminal activity.
— Global Guidance and Recommendations
Effective and responsible use of social media for investigations and community engagement starts with an understandable policy recognizing its lawful use within clear boundaries and without unnecessarily limiting the interactive nature that makes it so useful.
Defining Your Policy
Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative's (Global) Guidance and Recommendations for Developing a Policy on the Use of Social Media in Intelligence and Investigative Activities (48 pp. | 1.1 MB | PDF) "provides law enforcement leadership and policymakers with recommendations and issues to consider when developing policy related to the use of social media information for criminal intelligence and investigative activities."
Begin with a model policy (4pp. | 42KB | PDF) and build from there. Be sure your policy addresses:
- Law Enforcement Principles
You know that law enforcement actions must be lawful and not conflict with community standards. It says as much in your privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties policy.
Go ahead and restate it in your social media policy. Make it clear that the basic rules of social media use are no different than any other tool you might use. Law enforcement actions must have a defined objective and a valid law enforcement purpose for gathering, maintaining, or sharing personally identifiable information.
Define if and when social media use is authorized by assigning criteria consistent with your mission and legal authorities, such as:
- The need for a criminal predicate or threat to public safety
- The standard of proof required (i.e., reasonable suspicion)
- Relevance to an investigation or prosecution
- Usefulness in crime analysis or situational awareness
- Scope of Activities
Determine when and why you will use social media:
- Pre-employment background investigations (50pp. | 8.MB | PDF)
- Outreach and community engagement
- Emergency alerts (1p. | 679KB | PDF) and notifications
- Situational awareness (1p. | 1MB | PDF)
- Analytic assessments and intelligence development (9pp. | 265KB | PDF)
- Criminal investigations
- Information Limitations
Define what information will not be sought or retained. Consider how you will handle information about:
- the political, religious, or social views, associations, or activities (36pp | 3.5mb | PDF) of any individual or any group, association, corporation, business, partnership, or other organization
- an individual's race, ethnicity, citizenship, place of origin, age, disability, gender, or sexual orientation
- Access Authorization
Articulate and define the authorization needed to use social media sites.
- Is authorization necessary to conduct general research in the public domain?
- Who can seek authorization to establish an account or alias and who approves the request?
- What measures will prohibit unauthorized use?
- Reliability and Validity
What traditional investigative tools will be used to corroborate information obtained through social media?
Specify that information obtained from social media resources will undergo evaluation to determine confidence levels for source reliability and content validity.
- Documentation and Retention
Specify the documentation, storage, and retention requirements related to information obtained from social media resources.
- Off-Duty Conduct and Personal Equipment
Identify the reasons and purpose, if any, for off-duty personnel to use social media information in connection with their official responsibilities, as well as how and when personal equipment may be utilized for an authorized law enforcement purpose.
Set a schedule for regular audits of social media use and annually review the policy to ensure it covers current practice and anticipates future developments.
Help With Next Steps
International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
The Center for Social Media serves as a clearinghouse of information and no-cost resources to help law enforcement personnel develop or enhance their agency's use of social media and integrate Web 2.0 tools into agency operations. The goal of the initiative is to build the capacity of law enforcement to use social media to prevent and solve crimes, strengthen police-community relations, and enhance services. Social media raises unique privacy, safety, and security issues that are of paramount concern to all law enforcement agencies."
Don't just have a social media policy – train on it.