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Social Media a Threat To Undercover Cops 252

Posted by timothy
from the which-might-in-some-cases-be-a-good-outcome dept.
angry tapir writes "Facebook has proven to be one of the biggest dangers in keeping undercover police officers safe, due to applications such as facial recognition and photo tagging, according to an adjunct professor at ANU and Charles Sturt University. Mick Keelty, a former Australian Federal Police commissioner, told the audience at Security 2011 in Sydney that because of the convergence of a number of technologies undercover policing may be 'impossible' in the future."
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Social Media a Threat To Undercover Cops

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  • Here's an idea. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ryanmcdonough (2430374) on Friday August 26, 2011 @06:03AM (#37216950)
    Don't have a public profile and don't go out with friends and have them publicly tag your photos. Just an idea.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 26, 2011 @06:09AM (#37216970)

      Don't have a public profile and don't go out with friends and have them publicly tag your photos. Just an idea.

      But that takes actual communication with your friends, something social networking replaced.
      Nowadays it's not hip to have common sense, basic reasoning skills or actually interact with friends any further than surface banter aimed to make you look cool to nobodies.

    • As in, never during your lifetime. You see a camera - duck, turn around, and run in the opposite direction.
      You should make two whole steps before you run into another camera, if you're in an urban area.

      Cause, you know... I can go and tag both Jesus, Elvis AND Mohammed on the photo of an empty wall - regardless if they have a Facebook account or not.
      As for face recognition bit - the idea would be that you take a photo of a person, open an account with it and just let Facebook's face-recognizing algorithms do

      • That leaves people with facial reconstruction then. If the situation is serious enough, that would be warranted, and solves the problem..

        • by bytesex (112972)

          Nah. Just grow and dye your hair. Grow a mustache and beard. Get coloured contacts. Fake a limp. Wear a hat and something very noticeable in another place (a red chest pocket kerchief).

        • by delinear (991444)
          So long as the surgeon didn't get lazy and start giving all the undercover police the same face. It would be too ironic to change your face so nobody knew you were a cop only for Facebook to then identify you as a different cop who was no longer working undercover.
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday August 26, 2011 @06:51AM (#37217138) Homepage Journal

      Don't have secret police in the first place. "Undercover" cops have no place in a free society. Only police states have or need secret police. If social media makes the secret police impossible, GOOD!

      As to the cop's safety, being a cop is nowhere near the top ten list of dangerous jobs. A taxi driver or construction worker is in far more danger than a cop.

      • by Syberz (1170343)
        The day that the "free" society will stop committing crimes is the day that undercover police will not be needed to gather information in criminal organizations.
    • by AJH16 (940784)

      That's just it though, with facial recognition, tagging doesn't really matter. They can identify who your friends are, make a quick call and find out who you really are. Are all of your friends going to know not to mention that you are a cop when someone calls up saying they are your buddy from the precinct?

    • Better just say, don't have friends. Also don't have family either.

      I don't think most cops are allowed to have a facebook account, let alone a undercover cop. I'm pretty sure police agencies have a few policies about that.

      I know a buddy of mine went to RCMP college and he had to get rid of his account.

      • by DarthVain (724186)

        weirdly enough I just noticed the linguistic root connection of police, policies... and just now likely polis. That's odd of me.

  • The less you have in return. Especially for the government, it seems.

    Pretty soon, the people you track will know where all of you are, and then it's their game, not yours.

  • they can identify dealers etc easily.

    and their image sources will include surveillance cams

    so social active criminals will face a tough time.

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      I wonder how many "My Dealer Selling me a Bag of Weed" tags there are on facebook. As stupid as people are, I suspect that number is non-zero. I'd go check, but then I'd have to trawl facebook heh heh heh.
  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Friday August 26, 2011 @06:59AM (#37217170)
    Facebook has helped the police get dirt on people in many cases. Don't be surprised when it works the other way too.
    • by doug (926)
      I don't know about helping the cops, but I've heard that Facebook is a divorce lawyer's best friend.
  • by bistromath007 (1253428) on Friday August 26, 2011 @07:02AM (#37217186)
    Everything we lose in security will be gained tenfold in liberty if undercover policing shits the bed.
  • Mis-Tag, False ID (Score:5, Interesting)

    by retroworks (652802) on Friday August 26, 2011 @07:08AM (#37217212) Homepage Journal
    You create a fake Facebook profile and mistag-yourself everywhere. You have a police department staff scan photos and mistag you. With a little more effort, Facebook could become the best thing that ever happened for people setting up false identities. But Facebook has to let you mis-tag yourself. I started a Facebook Group "Data Camouflage Anonymous" for the purpose of mis-tagging and mis-identifying photos (to water down the facial recognition database) and within a day found my "tagging" ability turned off by Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/groups/151915044879668/ [facebook.com] Facebook should be no more reliable at facial data than they are at birthday records (which are a joke).
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      You're trying to poison the well, which is an effective answer to datamining but given the size of Facebook's userbase you're going to need homeopathy for it to be effective.

  • I note that these days you can just get a library to do stuff like find elements of a face... it's only a matter of time before recognizing cops from biometrics is feasible. ID them with a webcam at the door. Get someone to grab some photos of the photos of graduating classes for data to stock it with, should be easy since future cops are edumacated at our finest public institutions. Er, I mean, our crappy community colleges.

    • I note that these days you can just get a library to do stuff like find elements of a face... it's only a matter of time before recognizing cops from biometrics is feasible.

      Or, it's only a matter of time until wearing "Lucha Libre [wikipedia.org]"-style masks on all social occasions, because everybody is just fed up of being publicly outed for anything silly they've done, lose jobs because of party-behaviours while on week-end etc.

      That or "programmable tatoo" and/or plastic surgery becoming suddenly infinitely more affordable.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday August 26, 2011 @07:10AM (#37217226) Homepage Journal

    7 years into a known criminal gang? what the fuck kind of policing is this, assist & switch? they would have to know that it's a criminal gang to have ethical reasoning for infiltrating - and in that case they certainly wouldn't have good reasons to let it keep going on for seven friggin' years. that's not infiltration, that's living a lifestyle - that's being fabric of the criminal gang, that's giving motivation to the criminal gang if you hang around with them for seven frigging years while they don't get busted, so they're having a part in spurring the crime they're supposed to prevent while messing with peoples lives.

    because, suppose that they don't even bust them. they made an artificial, constructed impact on the people they interacted with and that's messed up, peoples political etc motives depend on the people they know so government invented shill persons shouldn't be on the list unless you want to copy STASI.

    ""If you have someone in the service who is trying to remain anonymous for whatever reason, it is still possible through other relationships to find them," Keelty said. " no shit, it always was. and anonymous isn't the right word here, FAKE person is the right word. but this issue is just highlighting issues that existed in their covert police operations long before this - and that they seemed to prefer guys who never appeared in a yearbook. actually they could fix this by hiring immigrants to police their kids, as they want people who had been invisible and never appeared anywhere.

    • by rwv (1636355)

      7 years into a known criminal gang?

      Spying and espionage is a long game. People get the best information by building trust. If the cops can get 1 or 2 moles into every major criminal group in the world they can blow the whistle when any single one of those groups decides it's time to commit a major crime. Small crimes like drug dealing and minor intra-gang warfare are an easy pill to swallow when law-abiding citizens safety is maintained.

      what the fuck kind of policing is this, assist & switch?

      A mole in The Taliban / Al Qaeda in 1999-2001 would have been a true blessing. You don't get there by

      • by iteyoidar (972700)
        The US has been openly giving weapons to the Taliban since the 80s, if they can't work with that I don't think a few spies are going to help.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Gangs typically have membership hierarchies in place that are highly dependent on length of service. New members of the gang won't have anything to do with higher levels until they prove themselves through both time and criminal accomplishments. These measures make it near impossible for the gang to be infiltrated by police. The reason is that the police have to justify expenses and salaries beyond 10 years - with the risk of achieving nothing as a result. As if that wasn't hard enough - undercover officers

  • Don't post your pictures and employment info online if you're a cop and ever want to do this work. Cops know that this work is what gets them the big promotions. If they want to advance their careers, being discrete on Facebook will just be de rigeur for them.

    Do you see the CIA's clandestine service going "OH NOES WE CANT USE TEH FACEBOOK?" Of course not. If and when they get sent overseas, they don't want to end up in a ditch because they moronically outed themselves on Facebook.

    • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday August 26, 2011 @07:29AM (#37217298) Homepage Journal

      you're missing the point, they can't even associate themselfs with OTHER people using facebook or social media, because if they appear on some wedding photos etc for some family, you know that there's an association there. basically the same sort of stuff that would have gotten them busted before if the bad guys would have hired a private eye to do some digging.

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        you're missing the point, they can't even associate themselfs with OTHER people using facebook or social media, because if they appear on some wedding photos etc for some family, you know that there's an association there. basically the same sort of stuff that would have gotten them busted before if the bad guys would have hired a private eye to do some digging.

        In other words, the risk has always been there, and therefore this entire story and hype is pure and utter bullshit.

        Facebook hasn't changed a damn thing with regards to undercover officers being exposed, save for making it cheaper to expose them. That's about it. If a criminal is hell-bent on doing harm to an undercover officer, they're going to spend money and effort anyway, just as they have had to do in the past. Facebook doesn't change that hardly at all.

        • by delinear (991444)
          How many people are really going to hire private detectives to dig into someone's background? Compare that to being able to take a photo on your phone where an app instantly drops it into Facebook/Google and lets you see what comes up and they are a world apart. That's the story, not that this is possible but that it's reaching the point where it's trivial.
        • by Sloppy (14984)

          making it cheaper to expose them. That's about it. If a criminal is hell-bent on doing harm to an undercover officer, they're going to spend money and effort anyway

          Most problems in life are economic, and criminals are not super-men who have infinite resources. I think the point of TFA is that some countermeasures against infiltration are transitioning from impractical to practical.

      • You've never been to a semi-public event where people asked not to be photographed, or asked that photographs not be published? Sometimes even former agents/officers/employees who did work outside the country will avoid being in the publicity photos, stand aside in group photos, etc., because their face might be recognized. It isn't just abused women and witness-protection-program w/ new names trying to avoid getting their pictures published. I guess people like that can't go in bars/public places any mo

  • Just remove "Undercover cop" from your profile and you're done.
    Nice and easy peasy.

  • by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gs@@@ovi...com> on Friday August 26, 2011 @08:07AM (#37217456) Homepage

    Sorry coppers, you started this. We now live in a world where constitutional protections of privacy are nothing more than symbolic and viewed by school kids on field trips on an old parchment document of the past.

    I don't feel sorry for the undercover cops one bit. In Chicago, where I live we have a saying, What goes around, comes around!

    See ya on Facebook!

  • Facebook has proven to be one of the biggest dangers in keeping undercover police officers safe, due to applications such as facial recognition and photo tagging

    You want an undercover cop? Change his face. We /do/ have that technology, you know.

  • It's the sound of the world's smallest violin.
  • Will undercover policing be necessary when the government tracks your every move and monitors all communications?

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