Identifying Insurrectionists Is Going To Be Easy — Thanks To Social Media And All The Other Online Trails People Leave
from the not-going-dark dept
As Techdirt readers know, there’s a lot of hatred for social media in some circles, and lots of lies being told about why Section 230 is to blame. Against that background, it’s useful to remember that, as their name implies, they are just media — things in the middle of people communicating to others. As such, they are neither good nor bad, but tools that can be used for both. In addition, social media posts themselves can be used in good and bad ways. Examples of the former include the Bellingcat investigations that frequently analyze social media to tease out information about major events that is otherwise hard to obtain. Sometimes, the information is so easy to find, you don’t even need any special skills. An article on Ars Technica points out that identifying the leading insurrectionists who participated in the recent events at the US Capitol is going to be pretty straightforward, thanks to social media:
the DC Metropolitan Police and the FBI will probably need to look no further than a cursory Google search to identify many of the leaders of Wednesday’s insurrection, as many of them took to social media both before and after the event to brag about it in detail.
Things are made much easier because many of those taking part in the rioting did not wear masks, despite requirements to do so in some locations. As a result, the authorities have thousands of really clear pictures of the insurrectionists’ faces. In addition, Witness, an organization that “helps people use video and technology to protect and defend human rights”, was encouraging people to save livestreams of the riots, and to share them with “investigating organizations like Bellingcat”. The Ars Technica article notes:
Neither would an agency need actual photos or footage to track down any mob participant who was carrying a mobile phone. Law enforcement agencies have also developed a habit in recent years of using so-called geofence warrants to compel companies such as Google to provide lists of all mobile devices that appeared within a certain geographic area during a given time frame.
This underlines a fact that law enforcement doesn’t like to talk about: far from things “going dark”, there is more useful data that can be used to identify and convict people than ever before. In this case, it could perhaps also have been used to prevent the violence, since far-right supporters openly discussed their plans online beforehand. But it wasn’t — we don’t know why. This plethora of readily-available information is another reason why backdooring encryption is not just foolish, but completely unnecessary. Today, there are so many other sources of key information — not least the much-maligned social media.