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Gaines Case At Center Of Debate Over How Police Use Social Media

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Increasingly, police are turning to social media in investigations. But how much access should they have to your private posts? That’s become a point of contention in a high profile Baltimore County case, and others around the country.

Korryn Gaines drew nationwide attention after posting her standoff with Baltimore County police to social media.

An officer shot and killed Gaines and injured her five-year-old son. Police say Gaines threatened the officer and pointed a gun at him.

A judge has now approved a warrant, which her estate is still fighting, asking for all of her private Facebook messages–and more–as police and prosecutors investigate whether the shooting was justified.

“The system of checks and balances is in place. I would encourage investigators to use it and to remember that if they post something on a digital media platform, it very well may be public at a certain point in time,” said policing expert Rob Weinhold, Fallston Group.

Facebook requires a warrant signed by a judge before it hands over any messages, photos or videos from an account.

Facebook provided authorities a file on Boston’s Craigslist killer, including pictures and messages.

Earlier this year, the brothers who ambushed Prince George’s County police headquarters documented it on social media, providing clues as to how the attack unfolded.

Just this week, a man who shot his ex-wife posted a chilling confession to Facebook.

“She deserved what she had coming,” said Earl Valentine, murder suspect. “I’ve been very sick for months, and this is something that I could not help.”

There’s also been a battle over access to phones. The FBI fought to make Apple give up the passcode for a terrorist’s iPhone, but was able to hack into it, ending the court battle.

“The broader issue is not over, though. The government and law enforcement are going to keep wanting access to phones, tech companies are going to keep fighting back,” said Shara Tibken, CNET.

Most social media companies require a court order before they’ll give full account access. Twitter alone gets almost 2,000 requests a year from law enforcement for full access to accounts.

In the Korryn Gaines case, her estate’s lawyer believes police want to use the postings to justify her killing. The judge limited the warrant to three days of messages and postings.

More from Mike Hellgren

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