Monthly Archives: January 2013
It has been reported recently that a student who died in a blaze which ripped through a Brazilian nightclub recently that killed in excess of 200 people posted a message on Facebook pleading for help. This would not be the first instance that someone has resorted to social media to call for help.
It is well known that it can take hours to write a good news article or blog post, 30 minutes to write a breaking news article, and even 5 minutes to write a couple lines to break the story, however, with status updates, it takes a matter of seconds, therefore social media and in particular Twitter can break a story in a matter of seconds. Ever wondered why the media follow you as soon as you follow them on Twitter? Generally you will find that in a small backroom within media HQ, a social media manager will be monitoring everyone’s tweets to try and capture that elusive scoop.
We can all remember when within minutes of US Airways flight 1549 ditching in New York’s Hudson river, cyberspace was buzzing with the news. Within seconds, Emails, Twitter messages, mobile phone photos and hazy videos about the crash flitted across cyberspace.
We really have entered a paradigm shift as identified by Rene Ritchie in his 2009 blog post, where he asked the question, “Have we entered a paradigm shift?” Ritchie stated, “…it happened with telegraph, with radio, with television, with satellite… is it happening again with the iPhone and Twitter?” (Ritchie 2009)
Several years since Ritchie’s observation I would say we have entered a paradigm shift and now we must ask, are we now in a mindset where we update statuses via Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms before we make a conscious decision to call emergency services via 000 (Australia) 911 (USA) or 999 (UK)?
As reported in the Huffington Post on 28 January 2013, Twitters second transparency report was released last week and the report disclosed that 1,009 requests for Twitter account information was received by Twitter from July 2012 to December 2012.
Twitters Manager of legal policy, Jeremy Kessel, said in a recent blog post that: “It is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet,” where he believed that: “These growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression — and real privacy implications.”
Under US law, Twitter is often asked to hand over data without warrant under the 1986 Electronic Communication Privacy Act where the requests are usually for E-Mail addresses associated with the Twitter account.
It is interesting to note in the Transparency Report that Twitter received requests from almost 30 countries for user information and almost all were denied as Twitter believes that it is under no obligation to hand over information to foreign governments because almost all of its servers and employees are in the US.
However as announced recently, Twitter is planning to open an office in Australia in 2013, and as they will have an Australian presence they may well find requests from local law enforcement agencies being served on them for information.
Will Twitter be a ‘good corporate citizen’ and comply with Australian requests or will they ignore such requests by saying that all of its data is stored offshore and therefore not subjected to Australian laws?
Recently in a radio interview, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy voiced his frustration, where he said: “My department has been trying to get in touch but they (Twitter) have no Australian presence,” and it is well known that these frustrations are held by many government and law enforcement agencies across the globe.
Maybe the Australian office will be the solution or will Australian authorities have to continue to rely on the Mutual Assistance In Criminal Matters Act 1987 (Cth), which from experience can be a very slow process that requires requests being made by the Australian Attorney Generals Office to member states.
Mutual assistance is an important tool in obtaining evidence for the investigation and prosecution of transnational crime, particularly drug trafficking, fraud, money laundering, child pornography and other child exploitation offences and terrorism offences.
As outlined in the Australian Attorney Generals Mutual Assistance In Criminal Matters legislation summary, mutual assistance is the process countries use to obtain government to government assistance in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Mutual assistance is also used to recover the proceeds of crime. Mutual assistance to and from Australia is governed by the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987 (Cth) (the Mutual Assistance Act).
Australia can make requests to any foreign country and can receive requests from any foreign country where countries assist on the understanding that they will receive assistance in return when the need arises and the process is assisted by over 25 bilateral mutual assistance treaties to which Australia is a party.
Overview of the Mutual Assistance Process
Overall, it will be interesting to see how Twitter will operate their Australian office and most importantly how will they deal with law enforcement requests for user information.
Australian Attorney Generals International Relations 2013, http://www.ag.gov.au/Internationalrelations/Internationalcrimecooperationarrangements/MutualAssistance/Documents/Mutual%20assistance%20overview.pdf accessed 28 January 2013.
Social media in particular Twitter and Facebook have been heralded as excellent communication mediums to pass on critical information to the masses during natural disasters and critical incidents. However, recent events such as Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook massacre and Australia‘s bush-fires and floods have seen social media being used by persons both innocently and maliciously to spread misinformation about the events.
The results of unverified information can lead to:
- Mass panic or hysteria
- Unnecessary evacuations that clog up roads
- Overuse of telecommunications services
- Looting and
- Anti social behavior.
Overall the three main groups of people who communicate misinformation are either:
- Innocent parties who have good intentions and believe they are passing relevant information to their followers for their well being
- Persons with malicious intent
- Persons who believe in their mind it is just harmless fun
One notable instance that could have led to all of the above points with regards to unverified ‘Tweets’ was the recent ‘Tweet’ and ‘Re-tweet‘ of a large water ‘spout’ off the coast of Australia that was re-tweeted during the current storm and floods crisis in Queensland, Australia.
Undoubtedly the ‘Re-Tweet’ that was from a well known sports person with in excess of 50,000 followers was sent with the best intentions at heart and it was even inadvertently ‘Re-Tweeted’ by a local newspaper.
Within minutes of the Australian sporting star Re-Tweeting this image some of the persons ‘followers’ advised that is was from a previous storm and is not related to the current threat. As a result the sporting person apologized and posted a retraction.
This incident clearly shows how persons and even the media itself can set off a chain of events that can impede emergency services in the region.
Additionally the anxiety it causes innocent third parties also compounds the stress levels that may be being experienced if they were from the area and may result in them feeling bad for passing on such information.
Worst case scenario would be persons evacuating or first responders taking action to assist local residents and having an accident as a result of the social media posting.
Overall such Tweets that started out as a ‘joke’ or even as a malicious act have a far reaching ‘domino’ effect that remain in ‘cyber space’ permanently.
History Of Calling For Help
Having grown up in inner city Melbourne, Australia I can still recall the old red ‘Firebox’ across from my house in the late 1960′s early 1970′s. These ‘Red Fire’ boxes were connected directly to the local fire station and hardly a week would go by without a local rascal breaking the glass and pushing the ‘Fire’ button before running off.
Time and time again the fire trucks would respond only to find no one there to report a fire.
Over time, first responders relied on the home telephone as a means in which they would be alerted to calls for assistance and this allowed for habitual ‘prank’ callers to be identified and dealt with by the law where necessary.
The home telephone or ‘land line’ as it is often referred to also allowed emergency services to utilize caller id to verify the location of the caller and this reduced false alarms to a limited degree.
Analogue Cell/Mobile Phones
Then in the late 1980′s early 1990′s analogue mobile/cell phones were starting to become popular and were being used to call emergency services and like the home telephone were on occasions being used to make ‘prank’ calls with false alarms being called in at an alarming rate.
Emergency services responded over the years with limited education programs and the odd prosecution of offenders and this had a limited effect on false alarm call rates.
However, with the advent of digital cellular phones, pre paid sim cards, illegal sim cards and international sim cards, calls to first responders are being made with limited detection or prosecution of habitual offenders.
Additionally the digital network is also compounding the effect of not only contributing to caller anonymity, it also contributes to persons with fictitious social media accounts communicating anomalously
Social Media and Disaster/Emergency Communication
It has recently been reported in the media both in Australia and the United States that social media channels like Twitter and Facebook have resulted in alarming levels of false reports being made by persons with regards to natural disasters, critical incidents, fake celebrity deaths/arrests and even the collapse of publicly listed companies.
Not only has digital communication anonymity contributed to such communication becoming common place so too has the ease in which persons can create fake accounts either from within their home country or via a third party overseas in countries like India and south-east Asia. For security purposes I will not reveal how accounts can be created offshore, apart from stating that it is now quite common for such accounts to be set up with total anonymity and combine this with anonymous ISP addresses and emails that cannot be traced or self destruct within seconds of being opened and you have a communication medium that allows for a proliferation of false Tweets and postings.
The only way to reduce such activity is to throw the full weight of the the law behind telecommunications legislation and enact special legislation that relates to malicious false reports that can lead to emergency services responding or causing undue stress or anxiety on persons who read such postings.
Additionally as posted in earlier Cyber Guardians Online blogs time has come for a 100 point identification system for all social media accounts similar to financial institutions under Anti Money Laundering-Counter Terrorism Legislation requiring customers to verify their identity.
Only then, can we educate and inform social media users of the power of social media when used appropriately to inform of imminent dangers and conditions and how malicious activity will be investigated by authorities and appropriate penalties handed out.
Stalking is clearly defined under criminal codes around the world and a good example of the definition of ‘stalking‘ can be found at Section 21(A) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) as outlined in this link.
Upon review of the legislation relating to stalking it appears to be a broad piece of legislation that has moved with the times to ensure it also covers a course conduct that involves the use of the internet. It is quite clear that under Section 21(A)(2)(ii) that a person who “arouses apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person-with the intention of causing physical or mental harm to the victim to the victim. including self harm, or of arousing apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person” can be deemed to be stalking.
As a practising Attorney I have recently been involved in several matters where Magistrates have referred to ‘stalking’ and it is one of the conditions set in domestic violence or personal safety intervention orders, however law enforcement bodies have limited resources to investigate stalking offences in general.
Whilst the law is quite clear with regards to ‘stalking’ the reality is enforcing such legislation is quite onerous on law enforcement and it appears that only in extreme cases will such matters proceed to court.
It is here that I would like to focus on ‘location stalking’ which whilst it applies to the general public at large it is extremely prevalent amongst celebrities, sporting stars and various other public figures and with social media use being adopted by society the opportunities for persons that engage in such activity will also increase.
The majority of social media users are aware that under various privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like that individual location geocodes(1) can be turned off therefore the exact location is not highlighted on a map for all to see. However, where people want to share a momentous occasion or just share a picture for their ‘friends, family, followers, subscribers and fans to see that one picture may in fact identify their exact location.
As a business decision to understand my law practice area and for other parts of my business where my market is heavily involved in social media I am an avid user of social media and use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where I ‘follow’ or ‘fan’ a variety of persons, celebrities, sporting stars and businesses. Most I must say as mentioned previously are conscious of having privacy settings set so that their exact location is not revealed, however simple photographs can give away locations to persons who may be set on ‘stalking’ that individual.
I can appreciate how sporting stars and celebrities are using social media as a way to get their personal ‘brand’ out there and it is imperative that they use social media in a manner that encourages growth of their ‘fan’ base it must however, be front of mind that some photographs that they want to share may best be ‘posted’ 24 hours or so after the event so not to give away their current location.
Constantly I see persons who are very protective of their privacy for security purposes post photographs of locations that to most people in the area would know the location and as an example I have posted my favorite picture of my preferred hotel for when I am in Sydney, the Intercontinental. It is here, this morning I awoke to see a sporting star that I ‘follow’ on Instagram post a picture that was taken at this particular hotel. For the sporting stars ‘privacy’ I have not posted her ‘picture’ but have posted a picture that reveals how a ‘picture’ can pass on your exact location.
Not only can iconic locations give your position away, general landmarks, backdrops of freeway/interstate highways, buildings etc can also assist persons who are set in their ways on ‘stalking’ or just finding out your location, whether it be your workplace, home or favourite restaurant or bar.
We cannot live our lives in ‘bubble-wrap’, we can however be mindful that whilst sharing pictures on social media is part of everyday life for a lot of people, personal safety is an area that needs to be considered before every ‘posting’.
(1) For geographical data to be stored on a map it requires a geocode that contains the address in detail.
Throughout 2013, I will be hosting live Webinars online and lectures at various locations in Australia and the United States. Both the Webinars and lectures times and dates will be updated regularly via Future Cops Online Facebook page, feel free to follow the page to keep across the updates.
To follow the lecture dates for lectures via Skillshare please feel free to see my profile at Skillshare and follow my profile for updates.
In Washington D.C. we will be hosting the lectures at the Evening Star Building at 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.
In New York City the lectures will be conducted at 1230 Avenue of the Americas, Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York.