Media, Privacy & The Constitution In CA: When Is Surveillance Legal?

Technological advances are being used to gather evidence and support criminal charges, but are the methods legal?

Social media has become a part of our everyday lives. Taking a moment to update accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is as normal as picking up a gallon of milk at the supermarket or stopping at a gas station to fill up with gas. As we are putting information about our daily lives out on the web, we may not stop to think just who can gain access to the posts – let alone what the information could be used for.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for this information to be gathered and used against the creator. A recent report by CNN discussed this issue, noting enforcement officers may be gathering information from these sites to build a criminal case against the creator. Attempts to monitor and gather data from social media in this manner has received serious criticism. Some social media sites are pushing back against this practice, taking steps to help better ensure that the information posted by users remains private.

How can social media fight back: An attempt to keep private information private

Both Facebook and Instagram are actively attempting to thwart efforts to use the sites as a tool for surveillance. The sites recently updated their policies, including a provision stating that developers are prohibited from using data from the sites as “tools that are used for surveillance.”

Is this a problem in California: Use of social media for surveillance efforts in our state

The Brennan Center For Justice at the New York University School of Law conducted a study on surveillance through the use of social media monitoring products. The study found that the use of sites like those mentioned above to constantly monitor for “potential threats” is common throughout the country.

The study pointed to California for two examples of surveillance of this type. In Oakland, CA, the local Department of Justice along with police officers tracked hashtags on social media as a method to monitor leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement. The police department in Fresno, California was in discussions with a software company about methods that may be helpful in tracking crime. These discussions included the proposal of a scan watching for keywords like “dissent” and “WeWantJustice.”

The study also found that Los Angeles County was one of the top spenders when it came to efforts to monitor social media. The county spent an estimated $194,625.00.

How big of an issue is surveillance: Using technology to infringe on Fourth Amendment protections is not a new problem

Unfortunately, the legal issues involving police surveillance, technological advances and our constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches outlined in the Fourth Amendment is not a novel concept. These rights are often challenged with each new advance.

For many, the extent of the invasion of privacy was not fully realized until Edward Snowden released documents outlining the extent of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. This leak led to the revelation of the extent of global surveillance that the NSA was using, showing the country that its citizen’s lives were not as private as once thought.

What if I face criminal charges: Take the threat of evidence through surveillance serious

These surveillance methods can be used as a means to gather evidence to support criminal charges. In some cases, the methods are illegal. When this is the case, the evidence may get thrown out, potentially leading to a dismissal of charges.

This highlights the need for those who are facing criminal charges to seek legal counsel. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review all aspects of the case, including how the evidence was gathered, to better ensure that your legal rights are protected.