These days, law enforcement is going the extra mile on the cyber highway- tapping into social networking sites for the same reason as everyone else.
"Every body's there. Everyone's on the Facebook and all the different social networking sites which there's close to 120." says Mike Phillips, FDLE Computer Crimes Center
But there's a darker side, past bumper sticker and Farmville applications, that those with a mischievous mind take advantage of.
"We usually get the citizen complaint telling us there's something online whether it's bullying or sexting or stalking someone using social networking." says Phillips
Sometimes criminals dig their own hole by posting the evidence on their social network profile for everyone who has access to the world wide web to see.
"We see folks that will post pictures with their gun and their buddies. We see people that will post pictures with themselves and drugs. But, we can use that to show, hey look- this person did use that to commit this crime and in fact we may see them post a picture with a gun that they used in a robbery or in some type of violent activity."
While social networking sites are only a fraction of the resources used in investigations, every little bit helps to build the puzzle and potentially crack the case.
"When we are doing an investigation we don't know a whole lot about that person's background, so we're trying to figure out who they are and what they're about."
It's not only the general public lying about their weight, height, income, or age on their social network profile- criminals are also using the Internet to seek out potential victims ... while law enforcement uses phony profiles to target sex offenders and keep children on the other side of the computer screen safe. "We'll kind of take a proactive approach looking for sexual predators that may be soliciting children. We will have a site that they will come to thinking that we are children. We would much rather them coming to us acting undercover then going to an actual child."
Detective Rob Waller with the Leon County Sheriff's Office is a member of the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children task force- He says finding one bad apple can lead them back to a whole tree. "We use those social networking sites to find people, verify what they're up to and other areas of the Internet they are using for that type of information. Many times, the arrest of one suspect can lead to another and to the arrest of multiple suspects."
With technology ever changing- even this story will be out-dated tomorrow with criminals finding new ways to break the law ... and law enforcement trying to stay one step ahead for the safety and protection of Internet users around the world.
Even if law enforcement cracks a case through information found on a social network profile, would it hold up in a court of law? And, how would an attorney present social networking in the courtroom?? Tune in Tuesday to find out.