Author: Jim Dudley and Doug Wyllie

By PoliceOne Staff

NEW YORK — In wake of recent mass shootings, authorities are pushing to gain broader access to social media data.

ABC News reports that some law enforcement officials believe that restricting access to social media monitoring tools is jeopardizing public safety. The issue is one that has law enforcement and social media companies debating over the balance between security and privacy.

Months before the deadly Parkland school shooting, Nikolas Cruz made several social media posts that were described as “disturbing.” The FBI said it received a complaint about Cruz’s posts before the shooting, bur investigative steps weren’t taken.

“Criminals, terrorists and foreign intelligence services are using social media as they engage in illegal activities,” said John Cohen, a former top official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Law enforcement efforts to prevent and investigate crime and national security threats would be greatly aided if authorities were able to use the same commercially available aggregation and analytic tools increasingly used by marketing firms. Unfortunately, many social media companies have mostly worked to prevent law enforcement authorities from using these tools.”

Sheriff Scott Israel has also encouraged lawmakers to allow authorities to detain someone if they see disturbing content on social media.

Some social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have banned the use of data for surveillance purposes in response to revelations about alleged government violations of civil liberties.

Officials from Facebook said the company universally bars developers using its platform from selling data obtained from their 2.2 billion active monthly users to any entity, including law enforcement.

But LE officials said they don’t understand why social media companies would allow political consultants to access and monitor their data while keeping authorities out.

“A lot of the data that may be helpful for law enforcement is being sold to other commercial entities,” Cohen said, “so why wouldn’t you provide those same services to law enforcement?”

Currently, releasing Facebook account records to law enforcement requires a subpoena, court order or search warrant. The company also said it’ll accept emergency requests for situations “involving imminent harm to a child or risk of death or serious physical injury to any person and requiring disclosure of information without delay.”

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