Freedom to Tinker – March 20, 2006:

The controversy started with a story in the Daily Princetonian revealing that Public Safety had used Facebook in two investigations. In one case, a student’s friend posted a photo of the student that was taken during a party in the student’s room. The photo reportedly showed the student hosting a dorm-room party where alcohol was served, which is a violation of campus rules. In another case, there was a group of students who liked to climb up the sides of buildings on campus. They had set up a building-climbers’ group on Facebook, and Public Safety reportedly used the group to identify the group’s members, so as to have Serious Discussions with them.

Some students reacted with outrage, seeing this as an invasion of privacy and an unfair tactic by Public Safety.

And here’s the really insane part, the university’s police department capitulated!

In the end, Public Safety stated that it would not hunt around randomly on Facebook, but it would continue to use Facebook as a tool in specific investigations.

  1. Drew says:

    Actually, im glad to see that the school did what they did. Something like this happened at my school, a fraternity was kicked off campus after the school administration (in an effort to dig up dirt on the group) searched aim profiles and facebook accounts to find images that would aid them in their efforts.

  2. Lou says:

    Cool… the school did do the right thing.

    Just because information is public, it should not mean that police organizations should troll the data looking for crimes.

    That being said, the students are idiots, and should not have any major expectations of privacy when using those sights.

  3. Steve says:

    Lou, why can’t police use public information to find criminal activity?! You admit the students have no expectation of privacy rights. What am I missing?!

  4. Alex says:

    If you commit a crime, take pictures of yourself and other incriminating evidence and post that online, your ass belongs in Jail. How is posting something online for all the world to see private? Its like streaking naked through main street and complaining about your privacy being invaded because you are being stared at.

  5. Scruffy Dan says:

    “Its like streaking naked through main street and complaining about your privacy being invaded because you are being stared at.”

    I like it!

  6. Improbus says:

    Young people now days really are idiots. Did the average IQ drop 20 points over the last 20 years?

  7. site admin says:

    Lou, The police should not troll the data looking for crimes?

    Uh, what are they supposed to do? Isn’t trolling for crimes in the job description? Oh, and can you imagine if they didn’t see these public documents and failed to act on them? The cry would be: “Hey dummies it was on the stupid are you!?!?” Yeah, that works.

  8. Tim says:

    Methinks some commenters here don’t know the difference between “trolling public data looking for crimes”, and “using public data in specific investigations”. Wanna try English Comprehension 101 again?

  9. Steve says:

    Tim, I’m sorry. But I guess I’m one of the losers who doesn’t know the difference.

    If the police should not be looking to solve crimes, what should they be doing?! That’s exactly why we have the police driving and walking around. They’re looking for speeders or purse snatchers. Should the police be barred from looking while they’re out in public?!

    I see no difference between an officer “trolling” through the streets of a city looking for crime versus doing the same thing on the net. What exactly is the difference?

  10. Scott Gant says:

    Um…these are university police…not REAL police officers. They’re rent-a-cops.

    I remember being pulled over by a campus police officer once back in the early 80’s for speeding and while he was taking my information I asked him if he was a real police officer or a campus one…when he said campus I just laughed and drove away while he stood there. He followed me and took down everything I’m sure…but as I left the campus, I flipped him off. Yes, I was an a-hole back then…but please, getting a ticket from a rent-a-cop? Needless to say, I never heard from him or anyone else about this matter ever again.

    You can bet if these were real police officers and they saw a crime being committed on a web page, they wouldn’t just say “oh sorry, our bad” when these knuckleheads cried “privacy”.

  11. Mike says:

    I would offer that the decline in the sense of personal responsibility in todays youth is inversely proportional to the increase in the influence of 60’s era liberalism found in all levels of acedemia.

    Hey, it’s just a thought 😀

  12. Steve says:

    “Um…these are university police…not REAL police officers.”

    While I cannot speak of all universities, the three I went to had real cops with all the police powers of the state, but their jurisdiction was limited to the the school grounds.

    If universities the size of the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and the University of Balitmore have real cops, I strongly guess that Princeton does too.

    Update: I decided to go straight to the source. According to Princeton’s website, campus safety consists of “62 professional police and security officers.” So it appears there are both police and rent-a-cops in that department.

    Don’t you love it when we’re both right?! Gives me a warm fuzzy feeling!

  13. Dan says:

    The kids complained to Mommy and Daddy and they complained to the Admin. who told the cops to stop it.Kids if you do it on the web you may as well do it your front yard except fewer peaple will notice if you do it in your front yard.

  14. Seventus says:

    My campus has real police officers, not rent-a-cops. I know that the officers locally and nation wide look into all sorts of websites, such as Facebook and Myspace for many reasons. There are plenty of important reasons to do this, such as the sex offenders who are captured, and so forth. However, I’ve heard of many employers who are searching through these pages as well. The claim is to help them decide whether or not they want to hire a potential employee.

    If someone doesn’t like want others to view their profiles and pictures through these social networking sites can simply set their profiles to “Friends only” or “Private”. I use a few of these sites, and I know that the options exist. This makes the content of your profile unviewable to anyone whom you haven’t given permission to.

    Content on the internet that is publicly viewable I feel is fair game as public information. Content that is restricted, encrypted, or requires some method of gaining access to it, regardless of if it’s on the internet shouldn’t be considered as public domain.

  15. Improbus says:

    When I was in college if you did something illegal you would keep it to yourself instead of broadcasting it to the world. If these kids want to incriminate themselves they get what they disserve.

  16. Greg Mc says:

    If these morons posted pictures on the Internet, the authorities should have every right and obligation to use the information for prosecution purposes.

    At the very least the guilty parties should be expelled. We have too many degree-bearing, over-educated idiots in the work force already.

  17. Seventus says:

    Yes, it’s been proven that the up and coming generation is probably the worst generation we’ve ever seen. I’m sad to be a part of it.

  18. Mr. Fusion says:

    If these morons posted pictures on the Internet, the authorities should have every right and obligation to use the information for prosecution purposes.

    I agree. That, however, is not as easy as it sounds. If someone posts some incriminating material on the web and the police see it then great. They will have a very difficult time proving that what they garnered from the web is admissable though.

    First, they would have to show the “crime” actually took place. Then they would have to show that the pictures are truely actual photos of the “crime” in progress. And not to be outdone, they would need to show that the material on the web was not adulterated or fudged in any way. I think when the police realized that they would have a difficult time having any of this admitted into evidence they dropped the whole thing. Steve, any comment on this point?

    I believe recently an abducted girl was found by police going through child porn pages. So trolling the ‘net can help law enforcement, but don’t overestimate it.

    Just because you “did the crime”, “took pictures”, and “posted it on the ‘net” doesn’t mean you will or should end up in jail. You might qualify for expulsion on the stupidity clause though.

  19. joshua says:

    Ok…..this is like the 400th stupid thing I’ve seen my age group do in regards to the web.

    From now on….I’m not 23, I’m 36.

  20. Jeff says:


    You only have a claim to privacy in a circumstance where on can have a REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY. There is no reasonable expectation to privacy for information posted on a intranet accessible by thousands of people, some of whom the students don’t even know by name.

    The notion that this could be a privacy issue is ridiculous.


  21. Allen says:

    Between the wayback machine and the googlecache, though, setting to private doesn’t erase old mistakes. Once the bits are out there, they rarely disappear.

  22. Ben Franske says:

    I agree with Allen #21. In fact I believe so strongly that people don’t understand the future ramifications of posting something (either criminally incriminating or simply embarassing) that I’ve written two articles myself about it. The first discusses the problem in general with a slant towards future politicians and the second deals with the recent perception of privacy disappearing from Facebook. I would encourage you to read them if you’re interested in this sort of thing.


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