Facebook As Your Alibi

from the when-your-status-suddenly-becomes-important dept

There have been stories here and there about Facebook statuses implicating people in a crime, but how about one that helped get someone cleared from a crime? Apparently, a guy who was accused of being involved in a burglary used the fact that he had updated his Facebook status at around the time of the crime, and had supposedly done so from his father's apartment, as evidence that he wasn't present at the burglary. The police subpoenaed Facebook to get the actual location where the update came from (and said it corroborated some additional alibis), but it seems to be one of the first (if not the first) case of a social networking status update being useful as an alibi.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 10:04pm

    ...but how can one be sure it was really him who made the update?

     

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  2.  
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    Pitabred (profile), Nov 12th, 2009 @ 10:27pm

    Re:

    You can't. But when it's matched with all the other evidence, it's a good sign he was telling the truth. Life isn't like CSI... there is almost never 100% conclusive evidence. You just have to combine all the evidence and find the story that it tells. No one piece tells everything.

     

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  3.  
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    Flamsmark (profile), Nov 12th, 2009 @ 11:23pm

    Re:

    Furthering the previous reply:
    One doesn't have to be sure. If you're defending yourself, you don't have to prove innocence, merely establish reasonable doubt. When you combine an electronic event that you're the only person likely to trigger, with other alibi material; you raise significant doubt that you had opportunity to commit the crime.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 11:30pm

    Re:

    it's called reasonable doubt.

     

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  5.  
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    Fred McTaker (profile), Nov 12th, 2009 @ 11:43pm

    VNC

    Apparently the prosecution isn't familiar with VNC, cron, at, WebMonkey, or computer scheduling and scripting in general.

    IP numbers prove neither guilt nor innocence. With technologies like I2P, Freenet, TOR, or even IPv6:4 gateways, all readily available with simple installers and routing behind Multi-WAN NAT firewalls, IP numbers are all fairly meaningless. You can't even prove that any packets detected weren't dropped before reaching the intended destination, over an encrypted channel hop further down the chain. So in absolute terms, apparent network packet data sources and targets don't prove anything -- you can't even prove the intended recipient got the data.

     

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  6.  
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    Hans Reiser, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 1:05am

    Why didn't I think of this defense?

    If only I knew

     

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  7.  
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    Paul Keating, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 1:14am

    Facebook saves the day

    Several comments:

    1. it was not so much facebook as the IP address that was logged - it could have been his banking connection for that matter.

    2. As pointed out by others, there is no evidence that it was actually he who did the update. He could have given his password to anyone and had them do it. Come to think of it, what a great way to get an alibi without even having been seen.

     

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  8.  
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    Call me Al, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 2:35am

    I'd love to have seen his status update.

    "x is establishing his alibi"

    Good work from the police on this, they should make use of this kind of thing to help support their other evidence.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 3:55am

    Re: VNC

    Apparently the prosecution isn't familiar with VNC, cron, at, WebMonkey, or computer scheduling and scripting in general.

    The problem is the prosecutor has the wrong guy. As the defense said: “This implies a level of criminal genius that you would not expect from a young boy like this; he is not Dr. Evil,”

    Yes, he could be faking it. But his parents say he was home. There's evidence he was on his computer. Do you really believe he did it?

    This is just a stupid kid who gets into trouble a lot, when he should be at home updating his facebook account. He might be guilty of something, but we should presume innocence in this country.

    I wonder if he was just playing minesweeper, would the courts find him guilty? If so, our justice system is so far from true justice that no American can appreciate it.

     

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  10.  
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    pegr, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 5:07am

    Wrong-headed and lame

    If this Facebook update is the only evidence keeping him from being charged, he had no business being charged in the first place.

    They obviously didn't have any evidence placing him at the crime, fingerprints, fibers, etc. Why do they think they have enough to charge him when they have no evidence at all? Poor black kid that all they have to do is accuse to get a conviction? That prosecutor is corrupt!

     

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  11.  
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    MBraedley (profile), Nov 13th, 2009 @ 5:32am

    Re:

    In addition to the fact that this introduces reasonable doubt, the prosecution would have to prove that he did not in fact make the update. Other than verifying his location at the time the update was made (did he make an in-person credit card or debit purchase, etc), there's virtually no way to do that.

     

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  12.  
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    NullOp, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 5:42am

    Oh Yeah...

    What the story really meant was Facebook was useful for something, finally...

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 6:12am

    Don't law enforcement officers have to see if the alibi checks out before filing charges and making arrests? Also, don't they have to gather evidence first? It's one thing when it's a fined offense for violating a code, and the municipal authorities set the amount such that it would cost more to fight than pay, but it's another thing entirely when there's incarceration at stake. Absent any other real evidence, they almost locked this guy up for not being at home when a crime was committed. And because of the novel way of establishing the alibi, the public is being routed around that little issue.

     

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  14.  
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    DS, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 6:16am

    Re: Re:

    It's not reasonable to think that someone else logged in to create an alibi BECAUSE they were committing a crime?

     

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  15.  
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    Yakko Warner, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    Flimsy alibi

    When I get to work, the first thing I do is open an SSH tunnel to my server at home. My browser uses that tunnel as a proxy. If I go to a site like whatismyip.com, I see my home's IP address.

    The fact that his Facebook status was apparently updated from home doesn't prove anything. Even if he did it, he could've done it from anywhere.

     

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  16.  
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    chris (profile), Nov 13th, 2009 @ 8:02am

    Re: Re: Re:

    It's not reasonable to think that someone else logged in to create an alibi BECAUSE they were committing a crime?

    from the post (emphasis mine):
    The police subpoenaed Facebook to get the actual location where the update came from (and said it corroborated some additional alibis)

     

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  17.  
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    Call me Al, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 8:19am

    Re: Flimsy alibi

    The point is that it agrees with other evidence supporting his alibi. It isn't the whole alibi on its own.

    I get the impression that there was various bits of evidence supporting his alibi which individually were not enough. However when they were considered as a whole it was reasonable to accept that he was at home as he claimed.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 8:26am

    My point in 1 above is that the Facebook update is merely one factor. It is the update in combination with other relevant information that is the deciding factor.

    The very same thing can be said for file "sharing". An IP address is but one factor used is identifying persons suspected of file "sharing".

     

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  19.  
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    DH's love child, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 10:10am

    Re:

    If only that were true... But you forget that according to the RIAA/MPAA/MAFIAA, the IP address is definitive proof of the identity of thief....

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 13th, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re:

    Not quite true. An IP address get a "name", but one still needs more than just a name to prevail in a "sharing" case.

    Using the Thomas-Rassert and Tenenbaum cases as examples, a wealth of evidence was produced that led the respective juries to conclude that the defendants were the perpetrators. Of course, it did not help her case that Thomas-Rassert at one point tried to throw her kids under the bus, nor did it help Tenenbaum when it was discovered that the had lied at one of his depositions.

     

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  21.  
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    lifehappenzinvestigates (profile), Nov 19th, 2009 @ 1:19pm

    Re: VNC

    What Fred said x2! Ironically right before passing by this article today I was reviewing the available twitter apps and widgets on their wiki fan page. I saw many free versions of software specifically designed to schedule tweets.

    With this said however; our justice system tends to be decades behind and in my perspective as such this lag in our system seems to favor the prosecutor more often than not. Seems the laws do however; catch up right quick when this is not the case. In the event they can rush this through the courts, this would be one instance where the defendant may just have a chance whether guilty or not. As it has already been mentioned a defendant merely has to raise doubts regarding their guilt rather than prove their innocence.

     

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