Facebook, Law Enforcement Team Up to Remove Inmate Profiles

VIDEO: California Dept. of Corrections aims to curb criminal activity on social media.
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Facebook said it would work with law enforcement agencies across the country to delete accounts that belong to prison inmates -- all part of an effort to combat rising smartphone and social media use among the incarcerated.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said prisoners have used Facebook to stalk victims and organize criminal activity. It has started to report Facebook profiles either set up by prison inmates or by others on their behalf to Facebook security. Facebook will now remove these accounts.

"What we're seeing is inmates' contacting or sexually harassing or even stalking their victims in the community," said Dana Toyama, a spokeswoman for CDCR, defeating the security measures put in place to protect victims from their offenders.

"They even go as far coordinating with friends or fellow gang members outside of prison to harass victims," said Toyama. "There is a reason we have pay phones to monitor calls. Letters are copied so we know who they are writing to. These are methods we do to make victims feel safe."

Last year the California corrections department was made aware of a convicted child molester who mailed drawings to his 17-year-old victim from a state prison. The drawings were sketches of the girl, and though her molester had not seen her in at least seven years, he could accurately portray the clothes she wore and her current hairstyle by looking at her MySpace and Facebook profiles on his smartphone.

The department said it confiscated nearly 1,400 cell phones that were smuggled into prisons in 2007. In 2010, that number jumped to approximately 10,760 phones. As of July 1, the CDCR said it was "on track to pass" last year's number," with 7,284 cell phones confiscated so far this year.

"This is a growing problem in California as modern cell phones can and are used in the commission of crimes within the state's prisons and outside community," Toyama said.

Facebook recognizes the problem. "If a state has decided that prisoners have forfeited their right to use the Internet, the most effective way to prevent access is to ensure prisons have the resources to keep smartphones and other devices out," said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes. "We will disable accounts reported to us that are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts that are updated by someone on the outside. We will also take appropriate action against anyone who misuses Facebook to threaten or harass."

While Facebook always gave users the option to report accounts of offenders, it has now broadened its policy to prohibit current inmates from keeping active Facebook accounts.

"This is a new agreement," said Toyama. "It's Facebook's acknowledgment that this is obviously a problem."

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