BENGALURU: Social media has become an important source for potential digital evidence for the police. According to a senior police official, “For many years, police investigation teams have been quietly using social media to track criminals, and in many cases, posts on Facebook and Instagram have been evidence collecting tools too.”
For instance, in a recent hit-and-run case, the witness revealed the vehicle number of the accused, but the owner refused to accept that he was in the area on that particular night. Police then checked his Facebook account, which had public information, on which he had shared that he was in the area before the accident. Later, when questioned, he had confessed to the crime.
In another case, there were several posts on Facebook where a husband and wife publicly expressed their marital discord. Later, the wife was found dead in a suspicious manner. A case of Unnatural Death Record (UDR) was filed, and only after the police went through their Facebook posts, it was revealed that the wife had an extramarital affair, and the husband killed her.
“Social media often helps us gather evidence. Especially when cases are stalled or leads are not forthcoming,” said another officer, on condition of anonymity. Legally, though the police cannot access private information from social media, public information is available to all and can be used as collaborative evidence.
“While public domain social media is data that the user shares publicly online, private social media data has limited access,” explained Yeshwanth, inspector, Cyber Crime. Many times, the police said, there is information or pictures/messages that get saved on the cloud, which becomes a virtual goldmine of evidence.
“In cases of cybercrime, murder, cheating, crimes over extramarital affairs, domestic violence, child abuse, etc, a peek into social media has always given us clues,” said a senior officer, on condition of anonymity.
Interestingly, the police also use Instagram and Facebook accounts to track down the number of new gang members. “If a first-time offender gang reveals information about only those nabbed, and tries to hide information about other members, their photos online reveal a lot about the exact number of people in the gang,” said an officer.