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08-23-07, 08:41 AM #1
Manhunts are starting with a peek at MySpace
Manhunts are starting with a peek at MySpace
Police finding clues on other sites, also
Wednesday, August 22, 2007 BY KELLY HEYBOER
When police nabbed two of the men wanted in the Newark schoolyard shootings last weekend, they credited a MySpace page with giving them key clues to the suspects' out-of-state hideouts.
When State Police wanted to crack down on underage drinking at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel Saturday night, they combed Internet sites looking for hints on where concertgoers were planning to party before the show.
And federal investigators are hoping a photo posted on a MySpace page will help link the alleged "Hat Bandit" to a string of local bank robberies.
Across the country, police are increasingly turning to MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites to help crack cases of everything from high-profile homicides to minor vandalism. Law enforcement officers-- who have long used the Web to track down sexual predators -- say the boom in online profiles is providing a wealth of digital bread crumbs to help them solve even the most routine crimes.
"It's like having an electronic tattletale," said Jon'a Meyer, an associate professor of criminology at Rutgers-Camden. "The computer is all too willing to share with whoever is accessing it."
Social networking sites have been around for years as a way for Internet users to keep in touch with friends and meet people with similar interests. But in recent years, the popularity of MySpace, Facebook and other sites that allow users set up personal pages have exploded, especially among the young.
A recent study by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found 61 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have a personal profile on MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, Xanga or another networking site. MySpace alone claims more than 100 million accounts.
As social networking sites become part of everyday life, Meyer said, it is only natural for police officers to start making Internet checks a routine part of their investigations. Even the most basic profiles include photos, messages from friends and references to hometowns.
It is easy to find graffiti artists posting photos of their latest vandalism on MySpace, Meyer said. Criminals have been known to boast about petty crimes on the blogging site LiveJournal. Teenagers often set up sites where they profess their loyalty to a gang and have links to fellow gang members.
"You never know what's going to show up," Meyer said. "It's their little electronic black book."
Last week, Newark police tapped into MySpace while searching for Rodolfo Godinez and his half brother, Alexander Alfaro, two of the suspects in the Aug. 4 shooting deaths of three college students in a Newark schoolyard.
Police said Alfaro, 16, had a MySpace page full of clues. It included his nickname ("Smokey"), photos, references to the Latino street gang MS-13 and messages from dozens of friends. Detectives started a bogus MySpace profile to try to befriend Alfaro's friends online.
The information helped steer investigators to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where Godinez and Alfaro were hiding out 20 miles apart. The pair were arrested Saturday.
That same day, State Police were mining the Internet to help with their high-profile campaign to cut down on underage drinking at PNC Bank Arts Center concerts. Troopers searched the Web for clues to where juveniles planned to gather to drink before Saturday's annual Beat Stock concert. By the end of the night, more than 50 people were arrested.
Last month, federal investigators made headlines when they said they were exploring whether they could use a Maplewood man's MySpace page to help prove he was the Hat Bandit who held up several New Jersey banks.
The suspect, James Madison, has denied robbing any banks and insisted in an interview that he didn't wear hats. However, his MySpace page showed him wearing a red baseball cap. Some surveillance video of the Hat Bandit has featured such caps.
"It's funny what you find out there on people once you start looking," FBI Special Agent Sean Quinn, a spokesman for the bureau's Newark division, said after the MySpace page was discovered. "The Internet has just become a part of everybody's life. It's like phone records and financial records."
Users on some sites can set their personal profiles to "private," meaning only a select group of friends can view them. But that rarely stops law enforcement officials from tapping into the information.
Most of the major sites, including MySpace and Facebook, say they are happy to help police investigations when they can.
Last week, MySpace helped sponsor a national conference in Texas attended by hundreds of police officers and FBI agents. One of the sessions was titled "Working with MySpace."
Facebook officials said their policy, also, is to help police when asked, even in cases that don't make headlines.
"We have supported several police investigations in the past," said Erin Zeitler, a spokeswoman for Facebook.
Staff writers Leslie Kwoh and Jeff Whelan contributed to this report. Kelly Heyboer may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-5929.
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08-23-07, 09:06 AM #2
Gotta love it when they hang themselves!!!!!"An Unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it." Jeff Cooper
Some people are meant to be the police......Some people are meant to call the police!!!
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General Norman Schwartzkopf
Not all Muslims are Terrorists, but all Terrorists are Muslim.
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08-23-07, 09:17 AM #3
Sounds fair to me. It's in the public domain.
08-23-07, 10:13 AM #4
Considering some of the Myspace pages I have seen, the information available extends beyond law enforcement into national security issues as well.
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