To Catch a Thief on Facebook

Campus police are using Facebook to identify suspects.

ByABC News
February 24, 2010, 6:49 PM

Feb. 28, 2010— -- Khayree Billingslea, 19, a freshman at Arizona State University, was given an unpleasant surprise when police showed up at his honors dorm room, handcuffed him and escorted him out of the building.

He and some friends had sneaked into a closed dining facility over Thanksgiving weekend and stolen cereal and soda. But it wasn't a fellow student who turned them in. It was Facebook.

Officials visited the students' profile pages on the social networking site and compared the surveillance images with their pictures on their Facebook profiles.

The ASU Police Department said they use social media as a tool to find leads and involve the community.

Although charges of burglary against Billingslea and his friends were dropped, he said he does not like the idea of police looking him up on social media Web sites. But he does acknowledge that all of the information he publishes is up for grabs.

"If businesses use it to hire employees, why shouldn't the police be able to access it?" Billingslea said. "It's public. It's on the Internet."

Crime prevention officer Brian Kiefling called it a way to keep up with the times.

"We need to adapt with them," Kiefling said. "We're still doing things the old-school way, with fliers that students pick up and then they'll just throw it away."

Kiefling set up an "ASU PD" page on Facebook last year to make students feel more comfortable asking questions to police about university policies. But so far, the page only has about 100 fans.

Billingslea, who admitted to taking the items from the cafeteria, understands why not all students would want police combing through their online profiles.

"It is, in a sense, sort of [like] 'big brother,' but only because of our perception of Facebook," Billingslea said. "It's not something that's private, but we have the feeling that it is."

Lauren Peikoff, 21, a journalism and political science major at Arizona State University, has not had any run-ins with the law. She sees Facebook as just another tool at their disposal.

"I don't necessarily think it's [like] 'big brother,'" Peikoff said. "The information is out there, you can elect to put or not put whatever you want."

If students do not want law enforcement to see it, don't post it, Kiefling said.

"They don't have to have a Facebook page," he said. "By opening themselves up, they've lost all of that privacy that they think that they have. If you want to be private, then I wouldn't open up a Facebook or MySpace [page]."

Privacy settings on Facebook allow users to hide their own photo albums. A user can make the uploaded photos visible only to friends, to the entire network they belong to, such as their university or to no one but themselves.

If a person posts pictures of a second person, the first person may "tag" the second, meaning connect his or her name to the photo. The second person then can untag himself or herself to remove the attached name. But the picture remains on the Internet.

"I wouldn't be too happy about police looking at my profile, but I try and limit the information viewable, like pictures my friends tag me in, because that's not my choice," Peikoff said.