Recognizing that law enforcement agencies must conduct surveillance of social media sites in order to detect and investigate criminal uses of such sites, this report guides law enforcement agencies in the development of policies that ensure evidence is legally obtained from these sites and that users' privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected.
Social media sites overwhelmingly provide a positive means of social interaction and communication. Many government entities, including law enforcement agencies are using social media sites in order to interact with and provide information to the public. On the other hand, participants are also using social media sites for criminal purposes. They may be used to organize and coordinate a civil disorder, plan a robbery, or recruit new members for terrorist groups. Law enforcement personnel must be trained in the concept and function of social media sites and how they can be used by law enforcement to prevent, mitigate, respond to, and investigate criminal activity. In conducting law enforcement activities in social media sites, agencies must ensure that information obtained from these sites for investigative and criminal intelligence-related activity is used lawfully. Law enforcement agencies must develop and disseminate a social media policy that states how information from social media sites can be used by law enforcement, as well as the differing levels of engagement with subjects when social media sites are accessed. A policy statement should also specify the authorization requirements, if any, associated with each level of engagement. Other issues that should be addressed in the policy include the documentation, storage, and retention for information obtained; a statement of the reasons, if any, for off-duty personnel to use social media information related to their law enforcement responsibilities; and the identification of dissemination procedures for criminal intelligence and investigative products obtained from social media sites. Appended cases and authorities and social media policies of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Dunwoody Police Department, and New York City Police Department