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Online Protection for Cops

Your reputation, your family, and you yourself can be endangered every time you post something on the Web.

November 18, 2011  |  by Matthew O'Deane


Is there a gang member searching online to find out where you live because he wants to kill you? When your kids come home from school, are they talking to a sexual predator online? Is a defense attorney getting a court order to use your social networking home page against you when you testify against his or her client? Do you say or do things online that are unprofessional or offensive that may offend your co-workers or others and result in an internal affairs complaint against you?

Hopefully the answer to all of these questions is "No." But are you sure?

As a public servant you are under constant scrutiny and you are held to a higher standard of ethical conduct than other citizens; this higher standard also covers things like online social networking.

Protect your Reputation

Any member of society with a computer can use the information that you post online against you in a number of ways. It is imperative to be aware and take precautions before making the decision to set up a social page on MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter or before providing personal information in a public blog. Understand that anything you do online may have unintended repercussions. The way I look at this issue is do not post anything or say anything on a social networking site that you would not say in a courtroom.

The landmark case Brady v. Maryland makes it clear that, "Evidence affecting the credibility of the police officer as a witness may be exculpatory evidence and shall be given to the defense. Suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused who has requested it violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution." Therefore based on this case, officers' statements and comments online can be used against them.

In one case a defense attorney claimed that statements made by the arresting officer on his online social networking site were evidence of the officer's approach to his job. The officer said he was watching the movie "Training Day" in order to "brush up on 'proper police procedure.'" If you're not familiar with the movie, it depicts a corrupt cop who violates the rights of everyone he contacts. Now as a cop this may well be an attempt at humor or be considered trash talk. However, once you post it online, it is out there for anyone to use. It will be used by defense attorneys in court, where the judge and jury may not share your sense of humor.

When comments or photos are posted, friends and/or family members can forward that thought or photo to others within their friend networks and without the original writer's knowledge, therefore forwarding information that could inadvertently harm the user. Although many online social networking sites are making large efforts to provide a user with security and privacy opportunities, it is up to the user to protect his or her information and limit the amount of what is provided on online social networking sites. It is good practice to just assume that once any information is put online, it is public.

Protect your Family

There are a lot of things we can do to protect our families online. The first thing I tell parents is to talk to their children about the potential dangers associated with being online. As much as we try, it is impossible to completely shelter our kids. We can, however, control access to harmful media and harmful people.

One thing I recommend to all parents is that they place their home computers in a public area in the home. Your children do not need computers in rooms that you do not have access to.

Parents can also take advantage of online accountability software. For example, you can set your child's computer up to send you daily e-mails telling you which sites they visit. This allows you to hold them accountable for looking at inappropriate or harmful content. Teach your children that they need to ask you before they give anyone information about themselves or the family. Recent reports have shown that some online sites encourage children to give information about themselves or their families. Some even entice kids with games and free gifts.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

David @ 11/29/2011 11:09 PM

Note that a photo taken with a GPS capable device such as your cell phone may include imbedded date, time, and location information as the default. Be certain that capability is disabled for photos you or your children plan to post.

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