Social media is where people share their lives. They post about personal struggles, work issues, family celebrations, and their pets. But if it’s where we share our lives, what rights do we have? Can you be arrested for what you post?

Law enforcement uses photos, videos, and words posted on social media to justify arrests more and more. The content is published and available for app users to see, and that includes investigators. This has resulted in many arrests, most notably those involved in the attack on the US Capitol on January 6.

It’s a reminder that free speech has a potential cost.

Philly Photographer & Activist Arrested Due To Social Media Photos

Artist and activist Sammy Rivera posted photos of protests in Philadelphia after George Floyd was killed in police custody last summer, the Washington Post reports. He stopped because he feared those in the images would be targeted by police investigating property damage and public disorder. Last June, he stated on Instagram he found posts of himself in photos at the protests. He feared that he and others could be arrested as a result.

Less than a week later, Rivera and five others were arrested for allegedly vandalizing state police vehicles. The FBI said it had photos showing six people attacking the cars and compared them to social media posts to identify the suspects.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, investigators got photos from a University of Pennsylvania student allegedly showing a crowd attacking the cars and setting them on fire. Police used distinctive tattoos, clothing, and physical characteristics to link some of those in the photos to protesters’ own social media profiles.

The Inquirer stated that photos showed Rivera taking pictures of the incident. Police claim he allegedly allowed protestors to use his skateboard to damage a state police vehicle. The skateboard in the photo matched one in Rivera’s Instagram feed.

Proud Boys Member Charged Thanks To Photos and Posts

The FBI has released several photos from social media feeds to help identify those who attacked the US Capitol in January.

Ethan Nordean, the self-described “Sergeant of Arms” of the Proud Boys Seattle Chapter, was arrested in January and is facing federal charges, including obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, according to the Department of Justice. The most severe charge has a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The DOJ claims Nordean marched at the front of a group of Proud Boys before the riot began, and he entered the US Capitol after rioters, including Proud Boys members, forced entry into the building by destroying federal property.

Part of the evidence against him includes a social media post the DOJ claims shows an intent to organize a group that intended to engage in conflict. Around December 27, 2020, Nordean posted a message seeking donations of “protective gear” and “communications equipment.”

Info From Social Media is Only the Start

The information available about you far exceeds what you put on Facebook or Instagram yourself. For example, you may detail your job history on LinkedIn and discuss your politics on Twitter. It’s also not just your social media posts. Others can post about you and upload photos you don’t know exist.

Third-party data companies can also come up with potentially thousands of facts about you because they buy or license data or scrape it from public records, reports Fast Company. For example, these data companies have information on your buying habits that may show you’re ending a relationship, pregnant, trying to lose weight, what medications you take, and where you’ve traveled. All of this is available to law enforcement if they pay for it like everyone else.

There’s currently no legal framework for police monitoring social media or using information available for a fee. There’s little transparency about what law enforcement is doing and the tools they use. We’ve lost much of our privacy because we’ve voluntarily given it up on social media, and data companies are legally vacuuming up mountains of data about us. Police are taking advantage of this access and arresting people until laws change, and this information is beyond their reach.

Challenging Evidence May Be Your Best Defense

You can’t be legally arrested without sufficient evidence, and more evidence is needed to result in a conviction. Challenging the legality of the prosecution’s evidence is a regular part of what criminal defense attorneys do.

If you’re under investigation or have been arrested on evidence that you think improperly invaded your privacy or violated your rights, call Fienman Defense at (215) 839-9529 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.

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