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Facebook - A Policeman's Best Friend?

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Many people are concerned with the privacy implications of sharing information online with Twitter and Facebook, but nobody should be more concerned than a Mafia criminal in hiding! 

Italian police used Facebook to track down and capture one of that country's most-wanted fugitive mafia suspects. Pasquale Manfredi, accused of being a top figure in the Ndrangheta mafia, was found in Calabria. The 33-year-old, who faces charges of murder, mafia association and drugs trafficking, was traced via his network of Facebook contacts.

Manfredi, who used the alias Georgie on Facebook, did not just use Facebook, but he is suspected of having used Facebook to exchange coded instructions and stay in contact with other mobsters.  Hmm, now do you begin to wonder about that "innocent" message your significant other left on Facebook to an old flame?  Imagine that - Facebook updates issuing orders for Mafia activity!  A far cry from Facebook's original goal of keeping college friends in touch.

Manfredi is not the first to fall to Facebook Police. Maxi Sopo was having so much fun living in Mexico that he posted about it on Facebook so all his friends could follow his adventures. Unfortunately for Maxi, also watching was a federal prosecutor in Seattle, where Sopo was wanted on bank fraud charges. Tracking Sopo through his public "friends" list, the prosecutor found his address and had Mexican authorities arrest him. Instead of enjoying paradise, Sopo was sent back to the Unites States to be tried.

These are no accidental finds.  A government document released in the US "reminds government attorneys taking cases to trial that the public sections of social networks are a valuable source of information on defense witnesses."  The government attorneys are advised to research all defense witnesses on social networking sites.

In several cases law enforcement agents have gone undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information. However, this raises interesting questions as to whether the police have violated the sites' policies. Facebook's rules, for example, specifies that users "will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."  But for now it apears that government laws trump social media rules.

Last year, police in Queenstown nabbed a would-be burglar after they posted security camera images of him trying to break into a safe on the popular social networking site, Facebook.

And in a step that should make you think twice about who you friend on Facebook, the Italian police are investigating whether any of Manfredi's 200 Facebook "friends" are involved in Mafia activities.

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