SOCIAL MEDIA: Clues to the crime? - KMSP-TV

SOCIAL MEDIA: Clues to the crime?

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Millions of people send messages and post pictures on Facebook, but those posts are proving to be pretty handy for police during investigations.

After a search warrant filed on Monday granted police access to a Minneapolis police officer's Facebook, investigators said they found plenty of evidence in the sex case involving underage girls.

If prosecutors are confident in their case against Bradley Schnickle, it's because he left digital fingerprints everywhere.

"He was quite prolific on social media sites," said Tony Palumbo.

All prosecutors needed was a search warrant for his online alias, Brady Schmidt. Now, they have 9,000 pages of evidence -- wall posts, messages to underage girls, nude photos, and more. Investigators now even know what kind of computer he used for those communications.

Yet, the controversy surrounding the case isn't just over what kind of evidence police are gathering. It's also about how they are getting it.

These days, almost every cop is a kind of cyber detective. A few weeks ago, Minneapolis police used Facebook to find a teenager who photographed himself with a handgun. Last month, officers located a woman who was stalking an old boyfriend through a Twitter account.

"People live online, and that includes criminals," said Bill McGevern. "We talk to each other on Facebook or e-mail, and that's how criminals talk to each other too."

Still, to get a search warrant for a Facebook or Twitter account, police need probable cause and a judge's signature; however, what's far more common is an administrative subpoena, which requires neither.

"All these laws were made in the mid-80s when there was no Internet, was no such thing as the cloud, no such thing as e-mail," said privacy expert Rich Neumeister.

Neumeister told FOX 9 News police requested nearly 3,000 administrative subpoenas in Hennepin County alone last year. Only one was turned down. Furthermore, Neumeister said he believes officers are now getting e-mails and other information off the cloud without warrants.

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