U.S. Government to Use Social Media to Catch Criminals in Online Games

U.S. Government to Use Social Media to Catch Criminals in Online Games

The U.S. government wants to use social networking to help catch criminals, testing a new interactive game that raises concerns over technology’s ability to expand law enforcement’s reach.

Tag Challenge, funded by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Prague, will award $5,000 to the first user who finds and uploads photographs of five supposed “bad guys” — or, actors dressed in Tag Challenge t-shirts — posted on the game’s website. The game will take place in New York City, Washington D.C., London, Stockholm, and Bratislava, Slovakia.

The game intends to test the ability of social networking and law enforcement, telling its sponsors “whether and how social media can be used to accomplish a realistic, time-sensitive, international law enforcement goal,” according to the game’s official website.

Governments and social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly at odds over how much user information should stay private, and what data the government can access. Users post information to social media profiles they believe are private, and advocacy groups say federal monitoring violates privacy and free speech rights.

Reaching millions of users in minutes could aid law enforcement officials when pursuing a suspect, but it also places immense power in the hands of both government agencies and everyday citizens.

Recent efforts in Germany to track down missing persons and criminals using Facebook produced positive results, but protesters argued the government had no right to publicly post photos and private information about citizens suspected, but not yet convicted of, illegal activity.

Those concerns could strike an even bigger chord in the United States, where the precedent of “innocent until proven guilty” has been in place since 1894.

Further, publicly declaring a citizen a “target” for law enforcement on such a massive scale could lead to dangerous situations for citizens, who could feel a responsibility to try to stop or contain an allegedly dangerous person.

Still, the government’s plans support the idea that the potential benefits of social networking seem to outweigh the public’s concern. The FBI recently said it will monitor social networking sites for terrorist and gang activity, and for now, sites like Facebook and Twitter will likely have no choice but to comply with federal regulators.

The advent of mobile technology and social media dramatically increases the power and speed of information, and arguments over who can access, and ultimately control, that information are heating up.

Meanwhile, Tag Challenge participants will provide vital data for government agencies when they take to the streets to hunt “criminals” on March 31.

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