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.
To celebrate the Future Cops Online E-Book Launch Future Cops Online is offering Free 10 Tips in Ten Minutes Webinars over the weekend of 12 & 13 January 2013.
The FREE 10 minute Webinars will be hosted online over several sessions and you can attend via desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet.
Here is the perfect opportunity to gain some insight on how best prepare for police entrance tests, speak with a former officer and gain an appreciation on how to enhance your chances being successful with your preparation.
The Webinars are limited to 20 participants per session and booking times will be posted under the Future Cops Online tab in the Cyber Guadians Online News in the next 72 hours.
To make sure you do not miss out subscribe to the Cyber Guardians Online News Blog and receive an update via email when the bookings site is open.
Future Cops Online look forward to passing on some valuable tips.
Several recent tragic events both here in Australia and in the United States have been exasperated by persons creating fake social media sites and posting comments that are about criminal matters before the courts. In Australia these comments can be deemed ‘sub judas’ (under judicial consideration) and may constitute interference with due process leading to contempt of court proceedings. The United States do not have such tight restrictions on comments sub judas due to the First Amendment and the right to free speech, however, cases have been overturned where the defendant was convicted in an atmosphere of a media circus.
As the police either charge an offender or identify a suspect with regards to a major crime and if that crime has been featured in the media, persons appear to create Facebook and twitter accounts at an alarming rate in the name of the suspect almost immediately after the crime has occurred and post comments that are either in what appear to be a sarcastic positive light towards the person charged or extremely disturbing comments and opinions that on occasion contain graphic images.
In addition to the aforementioned abhorrent behaviour some people who are appear to be deeply psychologically disturbed create phenomenally disturbing Facebook and Twitter accounts and post comments and images that can have an impact not only the court proceedings but also on the metal well being of persons who read such posts. Additionally, these comments may also be deemed to fall under one of the categories of cyber bullying, stalking, harassment, intimidation and or vilification creating anxiety and psychological trauma to victims, their friends, relatives and the community in general.
A review of social media sites over the last six months especially after crimes that have featured heavily in the media has revealed the following.
- A fake Facebook page depicting to be the brother of an alleged murderer and posting comments how the victim deserved to be raped and murdered.
- Hundreds of comments on the actual alleged murderers Facebook page that due to its virility in cyberspace such actions could lead to the person not being able to have a ‘fair trial’ in the relevant jurisdiction.
- A fake Twitter account depicting to be of the father of a victim with comments about the victim.
- A fake twitter account of a shooting victim showing images of the victim with bullet wounds and making several comments as to how ‘good a shot’ the perpetrator was.
- Hundreds of detrimental comments on Facebook pages of persons recently deceased in car accidents where the deceased person may have been at fault in the accident and death or serious injuries have resulted to other persons.
- Threats of violence and intimidation posted on the Facebook pages of family members of persons suspected of committing a crime.
The speed in which these fake social media accounts are created and the manner in which they generate vulgar comments is of particular concern in that anyone anywhere can create a Facebook or twitter account in a matter of seconds as all that is required is a computer/smart phone or tablet and an internet connection.
The ease and proliferation in creating a social networking site which are used to connect people either publicly or privately via private messages and chat forums increases the risk of ‘fake’ social networking that ultimately is leading to an increase in cyber stalking and bullying related offences.
Whilst no identification verification is required to open a social networking site, it appears no protection is afforded society from persons who are intent on causing distress to recipients of their communication.
Once a person has created the fake account they can commence their antisocial behaviour that may constitute bullying, harassment, stalking and or intimidation and it is here it is important to generically define some of these terms.
Overseas Outsourcing For Fake Account
Information suggests persons are using overseas outsourcing sites like O-Desk to create false accounts offshore in places like India, Bangladesh and several Eastern Bloc countries resulting in virtually untraceable social media account. Some contractors in O-Desk work for 25 cents per hour therefore creating a low cost alternative for a person who is intent on creating hundreds of fake social media accounts. This activity also allows for ‘Imposter’ accounts to be created. (A separate blog will be posted regarding imposter accounts)
Analysis of some online behaviour can be classed as online harassment that includes cyber stalking and cyber bullying that has been described by Stone (1999) to consist of “communications which are often constant, filled with disturbing and inappropriate content, and do not cease even after the victim asks for the behaviors to stop”. Cyber bullying is described as the act of threatening and harassing an individual via messages including blog posts, status updates and chat forums in social networking sites aimed at hurting and humiliating an individual.
As identified by Alba (2012) Wylie (2007) writes that examples of tactics used by bullies include sending a continuous amount of harmful messages or creating humiliating online content via social networking sites as well as posting fake ads to draw the attention of victims. Cyber stalking refers to “the malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person that threatens his or her safety” (Meloy & Gothard, 1995, p.258). Cyber stalking can be performed in various ways including threatening, intimidating and impersonating profiles (Sreedevi, 2012). As described by Neo (2011) cyber stalking may also include actions like “false accusations, monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, soliciting minors for sex, or gathering information to harass”.
A person can create with relative ease a fake profile on social networking sites that can include photos, descriptions, multimedia content and information regarding personal interests and location. Additionally, the person creating the fake profile may infiltrate a persons ‘friends’ network and appear to be ‘connected’ whereby others in the ‘friends’ circle may inadvertently link with the person behind the fake account.
Furthermore, Alba (2012)reported that Postmedia News (2012) wrote that victims who experience harassment at school or other environments, for example in the workplace, can now also experience harassment while in the privacy of their own home via social networking sites. Accessibility to social networking sites from not only the home but also via mobile communication means that victims can now be harassed at all hours of the day and the audience for cyber bullying and stalking has become much larger as opposed to traditional social environments.
Sreedevi (2012) points out that cyber criminals have the opportunity to remain anonymous online, making it more difficult for them to be traced and easier to target innocent people. Miller (2010) adds that as bullies or stalkers are not faced with victims who show real feelings online, harassment is easier for attackers making it worse and more hurtful for victims.
Day (2012) writes about a recent case of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old American college student who committed suicide after his private life was exposed publicly. A video was created of him having sex with a male which was broadcast over the internet via social networking sites. His room mates were also involved in posting and exchanging harmful messages on twitter and failed to realise that these messages can be viewed by all, leading to serious consequences.
Global Instantaneous Reach
Alcindor (2012) explains that unlike exchanging messages on Facebook which can be restricted to a group, Twitter messages are broadcast publicly to a much larger audience. This is an example of how online harassment via social networks can cause real life consequences in real time.
Inability To Take Action
London based Bains Cohen LLP Solicitors (2011) have stated that victims often feel too frightened and powerless to report online harassment to the police and in any case the solicitors explain that often when incidents are reported, victims experience a lack of support as they find that police are either not interested, lack knowledge or the investigation involves a lengthy process. Not all police have sufficient knowledge to deal with online harassment.
On many occasions in Australia the state police will refer the complainant to the Australian Federal Police citing that it is a Commonwealth matter (Federal offence) as the relevant law that govern telecommunications services is a Commonwealth Act, being the Crimes Legislation Amendmnet (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Act (No.2) 2004. However the state police can investigate telecommunications offences and are generally in a better position to do so on most occasions as they are quite frequently domestic related offences. However, with the globalization of digital communication the shift in offence patterns is now shifting towards more complex investigations and as highlighted below the range of offences now under the act is is quite broad and somewhat complex, but nevertheless encompassing in that the legislation captures previously mentioned anti-social. behaviour.
Division 474—Telecommunications offences
Subdivision A—Dishonesty with respect to carriage services
- 474.1 Dishonesty
- 474.2 General dishonesty with respect to a carriage service provider
Subdivision B—Interference with telecommunications
- 474.3 Person acting for a carrier or carriage service provider
- 474.4 Interception devices
- 474.5 Wrongful delivery of communications
- 474.6 Interference with facilities
- 474.7 Modification etc. of a telecommunications device identifier
- 474.8 Possession or control of data or a device with intent to modify a telecommunications device identifier
- 474.9 Producing, supplying or obtaining data or a device with intent to modify a telecommunications device identifier
- 474.10 Copying subscription-specific secure data
- 474.11 Possession or control of data or a device with intent to copy an account identifier
- 474.12 Producing, supplying or obtaining data or a device with intent to copy an account identifier
Subdivision C—Offences related to use of telecommunications
- 474.13 Use of a carriage service
- 474.14 Using a telecommunications network with intention to commit a serious offence
- 474.15 Using a carriage service to make a threat
- 474.16 Using a carriage service for a hoax threat
- 474.17 Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence
- 474.18 Improper use of emergency call service
- 474.19 Using a carriage service for child pornography material
- 474.20 Possessing, controlling, producing, supplying or obtaining child pornography material for use through a carriage service
- 474.21 Defences in respect of child pornography material
- 474.22 Using a carriage service for child abuse material
- 474.23 Possessing, controlling, producing, supplying or obtaining child abuse material for use through a carriage service
- 474.24 Defences in respect of child abuse material
- 474.25 Obligations of Internet service providers and Internet content hosts
- 474.26 Using a carriage service to procure persons under 16 years of age
- 474.27 Using a carriage service to “groom” persons under 16 years of age
- 474.28 Provisions relating to offences against sections 474.26 and 474.27
- 474.29 Defences to offences against section 474.26 or 474.27
Furthermore, resolving harassment cases can be very complicated as it is not always easy to provide sufficient evidence especially when attackers are anonymous and located in other towns or countries. Bains Cohen LLP Solicitors (2011) identified a recent case which involved an internet savvy person who created intimidating blogs and websites against a victim who was jailed after being convicted of online harassment however it took police at least 18 months to track down the attacker, and even then, the harmful comments remained online as it was still difficult for the police to have the content removed. As a matter of fact, due to the enormous publicity related to the court case, the blogs and websites received even more attention causing even more distress to the victim. Ogilvie (2000) points out that in the case of attackers and victims being located in different countries or cities, it becomes difficult to determine which jurisdiction to apply to a case making justice and the resolution of problems very complicated.
Identifying the Offender
Identification is the key issue in that most people who have had a telecommunications service connected as a post pay service are familiar with having to produce some for of identification to obtain the service as credit is involved. Whilst this has been a somewhat reliable source of information for law enforcement in the past, it was not without its flaws. Some of the issues facing telecommunication companies and law enforcement are:
- False identification being produced.
- Having another person apply for the service (sometimes with an unknown person for a cash fee)
- Corruption within the sales department of the telecommunication service whereby identification is not verified as per company guidelines.
- Store clerk error in recording identification details.
All of the above lead to telecommunication services being provided to persons where identity is not adequately recorded if recorded at all.
Information also suggests that the ‘black market’ for untracebale SIM cards is ‘rife’ in Australia and the United States and these SIM cards are being connected onto networks at an alarming rate and could be facilitating criminal activity across all levels from petty street crimes and harassment to organized crime rackets involving drug importations and distribution, murder andkidnapping.
A major issue with law enforcement is how mobile telecommunications devices use a dynamic Internet Protocol (IP) as opposed to a static IP. (Zytrax 2012) As the names imply Static IP addresses are the same every time you connect with Dynamic IP addresses having the ability to change each time a person connects to the Internet. Dynamic IP addresses are the normal customer access method used by most ISPs or Service Providers. When using dynamic IP addresses, even if you are permanently connected (always-on) some ISPs/Service Providers change dynamic IP addresses every 24 hours, others change less frequently (monthly or even longer in certain cases).
Additionally, some persons may use internet cafes and register emails at Yahoo and the like from there where they then conduct the online harassment, whilst some persons scour the suburbs for ‘open’ wireless networks to gain access to ‘wifi’ connections from outside the premises. Such activity leads investigators to the usually ‘Static IP’ address and therefore allowing the person total anomoninity.
Like with all policing, success comes down to solid investigative work and with all of the aforementioned issues identified the proliferation of social media accounts and the ease they can be created both here and offshore combined with law enforcement agencies having to do more with less it is no wonder cyber bullying, harassment and the like is on the increase. Whilst law enforcement agencies have proactively created ‘computer crime units’ and national ‘High Tech Crime’ sections, front line police need better training and advice with regards to the ever changing world of ‘computer’ related crime.
Connectivity is a way of life now for all persons almost from the age of 4 years of age if not younger and an important part of our daily lives and with such reliance comes ‘familiarity’ and instances where our most vulnerable let their guard down and it is here we need to protect them with investigating and prosecuting persons who use the internet for illicit means.
Maybe, time has come for some civil action to be taken against perpetrators of internet based crime and start having monetary penalties applied.
Alba, Anna. (2012). Social Networks: the rise of online harrassment. Retreived from http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2012/socialnetworksonlineharassment/
Alcindor, Y. (2012, March 19). Lesson of Rutgerscase: Online actions carry consequences. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-16/rutgers/53574554/1
Bains Cohen LLP Solicitors. (2011). Internet Law Experts: Online harassment, online intimidation and the criminal justice system. Shall I Report Online Harassment To The Police? Retrieved from http://www.bainscohen.com/online-harassment-online-intimidation
Day, E. (2012, March 11). The hurt caused by private lives being made public. The Observer. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/11/elizabeth-day-cyberbullying-social-media?newsfeed=true
Meloy, J. & Gothard, S. (1995). A Demographic and Clinical Comparison of Obsessional Followers and Offenders with Mental Disorders, American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 258–63.
Miller, D. (2010, March 10). The Darker Side of Facebook: Cyber-Bullying. Australian Women Online. Retrieved from http://www.australianwomenonline.com/the-darker-side-of-facebook/
Neo. (2011, January 3). How to Handle Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking. Retrieved from http://thepizzy.net/blog/2011/01/how-to-handle-online-harassment-cyber-stalking/
Ogilvie, E. (2000). Cyberstalking. Australian Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/4/7/A/%7B47A7FA60-8EBF-498A-BB9E-D61BC512C053%7Dti166.pdf
Postmedia News. (2012, March 24). Online bullying is now everyone’s problem. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/Online+bullying+everyone+problem/6353905/story.html
Sreedevi, K. (2012, March 25). Beware! E-mafia is at work on social media. DECCAN Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/cities/chennai/beware-e-mafia-work-social-media-439
Stone, D. M. (1999). Online Harassment. Urbana, IL: University Laboratory High School. Retrieved from http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/crime/harassment.htm
Wylie, M. (2007). Online Family Safety – Eight ways to handle cyber-bullies. Retrieved from http://www.yoursecurityresource.com/cobrand/in/articles/cyberbullies/index.html
Zytrax (2012). Retrieved from http://www.zytrax.com/isp/faqs/static.htm
As reported in Saturdays ‘The Age‘ on December 15 by Clay Lucas it appears that an increasing number of workplaces are banning staff from accessing social media at work. “Social media facing bans in workplace agreements.”
Some of these agreements specifically warn staff that any comments on social media that refer to their employment or personal life could result in disciplinary action that includes termination.
Additionally some agreements have banned social media activity during working hours unless done at the direction of a manager.
One area for concern for workers is the increasing amount of workplace bullying taking place via social media and how as employers they have a duty of care to protect their employees. The amount of employees making ‘sexual, racial, abusive, threatening and or intimidating comments is on the increase.
Upon reviewing the article by Clay Lucas it appears the majority of people that post such remarks who believe the remarks made are ‘semi’ private amongst their ‘freinds’ do not appreciate how the remarks can be shared by their ‘friends’ and instaneoulsy go viral not only in the workplace but globally.
Social media is no place for raising workplace grievances, yet people are feeling that this is an appropriate forum.
Overall employers must appreciate that not only is social media here to stay it is growing exponentially and with this growth workplace use by employees will increase whether it be used openly or in a clandestine manner with fake social media identities.
Open use of social media if used in an appropriate manner can be a benefit to an employer as it not only increases the awareness of the employees company which may in turn lead to increased sales but appropriate posts about the company or ‘positive’ work experiences can put the employer on a ‘pedestal’ amongst the employees social media ‘friends’ and or ‘followers’.
It is here that the employer must harness the employee as an overall ambassador of the company and embrace social media and ensure that the company has social media training available to all employees on a regular basis. Social media is evolving daily and training staff in the appropriate use must also be reviewed constantly and regularly updated and rolled out. Currency is the key to good social media training.
Social media training is perfect for hybrid delivery where it can be delivered partly in the classroom at induction and then regularly updated on-line with interactive online modules.
Banning social media in the workplace will only force its use underground and be far more harmful to the company and employees overall.