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Inside Twitter: Tweeting from prison

copyright www.patdollard.com

My recent series on how to make the most of Twitter for workers in the criminal justice system created a decent amount of interest among police, probation and legal staff but very little from those working in prison.

This is entirely unsurprising since people inside generally don’t have access to mobile phones or the internet.

So, if prison officers can’t access Twitter, how can a prisoner tweet – and do so regularly?

There was a fascinating recent article in @insidetimeuk by Matthew Whitehead and Andy Stanford-Clark on how they helped their friend Mark Alexander continue tweeting from behind prison bars.

Mark was convicted of the murder of his father in 2010 and is currently appealing against that conviction.

Before his conviction, Mark was an avid Tweeter and Matthew and Andy worked out a way for him to continue to use Twitter from inside in order to get support from his family and friends and to publicise his appeal.
How it’s done

Essentially, Matthew and Andy wrote software which subscribes to all the tweets sent to Mark’s account (@tap_ma) and compiles them into an email message.

These tweets are then sent to Mark using the emailaprisoner service which allows anyone to write to prisoners, when the email reaches the prison, it is printed out and passed on to the prisoner.

These emails are limited to 2,500 characters, but because Tweets are famously only 140 characters long, this equates to 15-20 messages at a time.

Twitter direct messages can also be passed on in the same way.

Unfortunately, the technology (for fairly obvious prison security reasons) only works one way.

So for Mark to reply to his tweets, he has to write a traditional letter which includes a series of Tweets which Matthew and Andy then type and post online.

In the article, Mark describes how even this snailmail version of Twitter makes him feel in much closer contact with his friends and more supported as he copes with prison life.

Necessity is truly the mother of invention.

You can follow emailaprisoner on Twitter: @prisontechnolog

You might also be interested in the only legal Blog by a serving prisoner: Ben’s Prison Blog

Many thanks to @prisonerfamily for the headsup on the Inside Time article.

This article was previously published on Russell Webster’s blog.


Bing Maps and Law Enforcement: BFFs

The Microsoft Corporation is taking on it’s arch rival, Google, in a virtual showdown at the HTTP Corral. Law enforcement is going to win big no matter who wins this social media fistfight. Microsoft has been ensconcing itself firmly in both Facebook and Twitter search and Google for a change, must play catch-up. Microsoft has provided law enforcement with tools that can help gather information faster and in real-time. If you didn’t believe in social media as a viable law enforcement investigative tool, Microsoft may have just change your mind.

Awhile back I wrote an article on ConnectedCops.net entitled, The Social Media Canvass. In it, I explained the importance of checking social media sites for information in addition to conducting the traditional investigative canvasses once the detectives arrive at the scene. The social media canvass has changed the way we conduct investigations, how law enforcement views electronic intelligence and how it uses smartphones / tablets at the scene of a major incident. Law enforcement has always been slow to adopt anything new, however, at the speed that technology is developing in the social media space, we may find ourselves in a hole that may be to deep to dig out of.

The Microsoft Bing Map Twitter App can provide a treasure trove of intelligence for law enforcement, quickly and more efficiently, by tapping into it’s Twitter Map App. The app can be found from the Bing.com homepage by clicking on the Maps link, choosing Map Apps and scrolling down to the Twitter App (Currently there are 59 Apps in alphabetical order). Once the app has loaded, two tabs, Timeline and Search, appear on the left side of the screen. When you click on the Search tab, you are able to enter a location, address or landmark, keyword or phrase or a Twitter username. Since you will probably not be looking for anyone in particular, enter text in the location and keyword boxes. For example, enter your hometown in the location box and shooting, murder, rape, robbery, etc. in the keywords / phrases box. Within a few seconds, Bing will locate all Tweets that contain that information and provide the investigator with a map of where the person Tweeted from or is currently tweeting from, as well as a Timeline that is updated with every new Tweet that contains your parameters. More importantly, it provides active links directly to the person’s Twitter account-which means you know who they follow and who follows them.

Google will need to create something even better if it wants to stay relevant in the social media search space. This virtual fight will only benefit law enforcement. As the two Internet giants battle it out, they will create better tools for us to use. Microsoft’s Bing is already Facebook’s default search engine, so investigators should go there first to conduct their initial searches during the social media canvass. Twitter, the “other social media site” is currently building a sizable user base of over 465 million. Law enforcement can use Bing to tap into this growing database and identify tweets timely, which may lead to more actionable intelligence and more closed cases.

Remember, it is not only bad guys that we are looking for when we use the social media canvass. We can identify eye and ear witnesses and obtain intelligence information that may prove or disprove alibis.

The art of face recognition technology

In the near future, will police officers be able to use their mobile phone to photograph you at the roadside and then instantly run your photo through a database of known criminals?

These thoughts were prompted by a fascinating article by @paulxharris in this weekend’s Observer on the possibility of applying face recognition software to famous paintings.

The University of California at Riverside has secured funding to test the application of facial recognition software to famous portraits where the subject is unknown such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, one of 14 portraits of unknown subjects which comprise a current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery entitled “Imagined Lives”.

The University is going to start by using the software on death masks of known individuals and create a database of sufficiently wealthy individuals who could be the real life model for, say, the Laughing Cavalier.

Intriguingly, there are also plans to use another forensic technique, software which predicts how an individual might look several years after their latest available image, as was recently done in the tragic case of Madeleine McCann.

So, it will be possible to run this aging software on the Girl with a Pearl Earring and then see if another portrait was painted as an older woman. If such a portrait was titled, we would then know her identity.

All this talk of facial recognition software put me in mind of Facewatch, the business crime reporting website and application which I posted about recently.

Facewatch hosts still images from CCTV footage and encourages members of the public to go online (or use the mobile app) to see if they recognise the perpetrators of local crimes.

It is easy to imagine a future in which all these images are automatically run through a database of known offenders to try to identify them at the earliest opportunity.

It strikes me that if the plans for a National Identity Card developed by the last Labour government had gone through, this might well have been one of its prime uses.

It would, of course, be possible to start building a database using photos from passport and driving licence applications although the data protection and Civil Liberties considerations would have to be fully worked through.

Who knows how important facial recognition software will be for the future of law enforcement?

For myself, I would love to know who were the real life models for Jesus and the 12 disciples in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

No One makes a protective vest for a Cop on Facebook

According to an old English proverb, A man is known by the company he keeps. On Facebook, some police officers are keeping company they wouldn’t otherwise keep. Some officers, the same ones who guard themselves, their families and colleagues diligently day in and day out are behaving as though they’ve forgotten they work in one of the most dangerous professions there is.

On Facebook, the tables have been turned on law officers. All those social engineering techniques police investigators do to ferret out pedophiles and gang-bangers with fake profiles in social media are also being used by cop haters to gain intelligence about cops. People who would want to harm police officers are creating profiles to look like cops, and officers are friending them in the same way they’d have a buddy over for dinner, opening the front door and saying “come on in”.

There is no telltale sign that a profile on Facebook that appears to be a police officer is not really a police officer. It’s a combination of things that gives us reason to believe a profile might be phony. But those same reasons might also be interpreted as signs of a cop trying to protect his identity. Things like vague references to one’s employer, a profile photo depicting an eagle, the flag or even Jesus, are all prevalent on these fake profiles. Look at the photo albums and there are rarely photos of real people. Instead we see images including cartoon characters, logos, random military and police photos.

One profile we know to have been fake is that of “Ron Swalows”. Have your laugh at the name and then, please take this seriously. It’s a believable cop profile because in this case, there’s a photo of a real cop in uniform.

Close inspection will show (look just under his name) that he works for “Police”. Upon clicking on that link we saw a wikipedia-looking page defining a police officer rather than a link to a department page. Facebook told me how many mutual friends we had. I emailed a couple of those friends, real friends I know in real life that are law officers. I emailed them to ask what they knew about Mr. Swalows. Their response was along the lines of “I don’t know him but he posts all the time in a group I’m in and he seems like a really nice guy”. Folks, that’s part of the ruse. Isn’t that what you do when you’re pretending to be a 15 year old hottie with cleavage who likes bad boys?

The only way we knew for certain that this profile was fake was because we saw that the photo used was that of Larry Nehasil, an officer who was gunned-down in Livonia, Michigan in January of 2011. Here’s Officer Nehasil’s profile on the Officer Down Memorial Page.

These people are learning a lot about the cops who friend them, as well as their colleagues and family members. It sure would be easy to learn an officer’s kids’ names and where they go to school or take karate lessons. I’m extremely concerned for three reasons. By friending a cop, they gain:

1. Access to a law officer’s personal information
2. Credibility to your Facebook friends so they, in turn, friend them too
3. Legitimacy and therefore, entry into private groups on Facebook, gaining valuable intelligence you really don’t want them to have

The only way to guard oneself from these predators – and they are predators – is to be absolutely certain that everyone you friend on Facebook is someone you KNOW is real. They may not be holding a gun to your head but that doesn’t mean they aren’t wishing to harm you just because you wear a uniform. It also doesn’t mean that they’re not just as dangerous as a loaded round headed in your direction. Rest assured there is no Kevlar vest to protect you on Facebook. Your only protection is not to act carelessly. You must keep your guard up just as you are trained to do on the job.

The ConnectedCOPS™ Awards – nominations close May 31st

When was the last time someone brought up Twitter or Facebook in a conversation about cops using either when what followed wasn’t something negative? We’ve all heard the negative stories about police use of social media and it’s time we start hearing more about the positive outcomes of police use of social media. LAwS Communications is producing the ConnectedCOPS™ Awards to recognize and celebrate the incredibly great work being done by law enforcement agencies and law officers all over the planet.


Nominations are open through May 31st. Judging will take place in June and July and winners will be notified in early August. Our award sponsors are Nixle and LexisNexis. We have four more spots for sponsorships, contact LAwS Communications for more information about sponsorship. Terms and conditions for the awards are spelled out here.

Winners will receive:

  1. Recognition of their achievement at the awards ceremony at The SMILE Conference™ in Richmond
  2. A beautiful custom crystal trophy
  3. Financial assistance for one to attend SMILE in Richmond
  4. Free admittance to The SMILE Conference in Richmond
  5. International acknowledgement of their achievement in partnering media publications.

To nominate an agency or law officer, go to the ConnectedCOPS Awards webpage.

There are six categories for these awards, as follows:

ConnectedCOPS Award of Excellence at a Large Agency

This award is given to a law enforcement agency, anywhere in the world, of 151 sworn officers or more that has demonstrated overall excellence in the use of social media to enhance its services to the public. The agency exhibits leadership, creativity and innovation in its use of social media to engage, educate, recruit, and etc. The agency has a broad and deep understanding of social media use and applies sound governance and strategy in its social media operations. The agency also promotes the use of social networking in law enforcement through its outreach to colleagues and by mentoring others.
The nominee for this award must be a law enforcement AGENCY.

ConnectedCOPS Award of Excellence at a Small Agency

This award is given to a law enforcement agency of 150 sworn officers or fewer that has demonstrated overall excellence in the use of social media to enhance its services to the public. The agency exhibits leadership, creativity and innovation in its use of social media to engage, educate, recruit, and etc. The agency has a broad and deep understanding of social media use and applies sound governance and strategy in its social media operations. The agency also promotes the use of social networking in law enforcement through its outreach to colleagues and by mentoring others.
The nominee for this award must be a law enforcement AGENCY.

ConnectedCOPS Leadership Award

This award is given to the individual sworn officer up to and including the rank of Sergeant (or its international equivalent) at any worldwide law enforcement agency who has singularly demonstrated exemplary and selfless leadership in the use of social media to improve public safety and/or enhance his or her agency’s community engagement and reputation. This individual is creative, innovative and fearless and shares what s/he knows by mentoring others, participating in public speaking opportunities and leading by example.
The nominee for this award must be an individual law enforcement officer.

ConnectedCOPS Top Cop Award

This award is given to the sworn law enforcement executive of the rank of LT (or its international equivalent) and up, at any worldwide law enforcement agency who has demonstrated significant and sustained executive leadership to further the use of social media and Internet technologies in law enforcement. This individual is a risk-taker and a pioneer in his or her promotion and use of social media in policing. The recipient of the Top Cop Award also gives his thought leadership and expertise freely to others.
The nominee for this award must be an individual law enforcement officer.

ConnectedCOPS Social Media Investigator

This award is given to the sworn law enforcement investigator at any worldwide law enforcement agency who, as a practitioner, has used social media successfully to solve crime. The Social Media Investigator practices appropriate security measures and supervision in his/her investigations.
The nominee for this award must be an individual law enforcement officer.

ConnectedCOPS Social Media Incident Management

This award is given to the sworn law enforcement officer or agency anywhere in the world who has used social media to manage and/or influence a public safety/emergency event, whether unforeseen or known. This officer/agency has strategically and successfully implemented social media engagement techniques to positively and effectively communicate public safety information in an urgent or emergency situation.
The nominee for this award can be a law enforcement agency OR individual law enforcement professional to include civilians.

To nominate an agency or law officer, go to the ConnectedCOPS Awards webpage.

ConnectedCOPS Awards Partners are:

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