Thursday, August 03, 2006
"MySpace may not be just YOUR space."
This is an article a friend sent me. She and I have been self proclaimed MYSPACE P.I.'s for sometime now. We don't do this to invade our children's privacy, we do this to keep them safe. I would hope that by the time our 15 year olds reach college that they would be educated enough on this subject to know that putting things on a public website is like shouting it from a megaphone. The last sentence in the article is so true, teenagers will be teenagers and college kids may be college kids: the difference is things we did as kids were never documented on public websites.
Cop snares college pals in own Web
By Jodi S. Cohen
Tribune higher education reporter
August 3, 2006
On a typical summer night out, a group of college friends went bar-hopping at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Then one of them committed a fairly typical college crime, urinating in a bush in front of a fraternity house. That's when things started to get strange.
Marc Chiles, 22, who couldn't wait until he got to the next bar, got away before a police officer could catch him. Adam Gartner, 22, told the officer he didn't know the name of the guy who had zipped up and zipped away.
Just then, Gartner's cell phone rang. The officer got on the phone, began talking to the person who called, and got Chiles' name from the caller, according to the friends.
Then the officer went to Facebook.com, a Web site where students can post profiles and leave messages for one another. Not only did Facebook help him identify Chiles, it also showed that Chiles and Gartner listed each other as friends, suggesting Gartner had lied to police.
Chiles' ticket for public urination: $145. Gartner's ticket for obstructing justice: $195.
Gartner, a U. of I. junior studying crop sciences, admits he lied but said he was shocked to learn that he was booked by Facebook.
"I had no idea that old people were wise to Facebook. I thought they referred to it as a doohickey that kids play with," he said. "I got bone-crushed."
Employers, recruiters and police are catching on to the popular social networking sites MySpace, Xanga and Facebook. With the sites being used to conduct background checks on employees and job applicants, university officials are warning students to be careful about what they post in their profiles.
The incident at the U. of I. seems to be one of a handful of times that Facebook has been used to aid a campus police investigation. Police at Penn State University also reportedly searched its photos to investigate students who rushed onto the football field after a game.
"It is another investigative tool," said Kris Fitzpatrick, interim executive director of public safety at the U. of I. "My feeling about Facebook is, don't post anything you wouldn't want your mother or your future employers reading or seeing."
About 7.5 million people are registered on Facebook, where they post photos, send messages and connect with people who have similar interests. Gartner's profile, for example, shows that he watches "Lucky Louie" on HBO, has 152 Facebook friends, and works in construction, doing "all the things that my boss doesn't want to do himself."
Access to the site is partially restricted. If you want to see profiles from a college, you must have a valid e-mail address from that school.
Campus police officers, faculty and alumni can look up profiles if they have university e-mail addresses. But users can limit access to their personal pages.
Concerned about students publishing damaging information, attorneys at Student Legal Service at the U. of I. plan to start passing out brochures this fall called "MySpace may not be just YOUR space."
The brochure lists several things that employers might find questionable: nude photographs, violent images and stories about sexual escapades, drugs and excessive drinking.
"What was once considered a private realm for the younger generation is becoming widely known to the older generation, and most of one's material posted on such sites is visible for all to see," the brochure warns.
At the U. of I., several police officers have created Facebook profiles using their university e-mails, Fitzpatrick said.
One of them reported seeing Chiles "in a traditional urinal stance" at 1:45 a.m. July 20 at 4th and John Streets in Champaign, according to Chiles' citation. The officer shined his flashlight on Chiles and asked him to step to the sidewalk, but Chiles fled, police said.
Chiles denies running from police, though he admits relieving himself.
When Gartner claimed not to know the name of his friend, the officer told him that he planned to connect the two through Facebook.
"I went home and went to Facebook and disconnected our friendship," Gartner said.
But it was too late.
Just as Gartner was changing his profile, the officer was viewing the site, police said.
The officer called the friends to alert them about the citations later that day. Chiles paid his fine July 24, and Gartner said he plans to pay his soon. They have been friends since high school in Bloomington.
"I was astounded by it," said Chiles, who graduated from the U. of I. in May. "He used it to prove we were good friends. It seems kind of unfair. It is not like Facebook is the most truthful thing there is."
Several legal observers said they thought the U. of I. police reaction was over the top.
"This seemingly is a gross overreaction and very poor judgment rendered by the campus police," said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the Washington-based American Council on Education. "To use limited police and security resources to apprehend and then prosecute minor violations is hardly a good use of resources."
Jeremy Grose, an attorney for U. of I.'s Student Legal Service, said he expects to see more students in legal trouble related to their Web site postings.
"It's hard to believe that police would have nothing better to do than get online and scan through Facebook," he said. "I am wondering if the next step will be combing through and trying to find crimes admitted to online."
Fitzpatrick, the U. of I. police chief, defended her department's pursuit of the student who urinated on the shrub.
"It may seem minor, but it is part of a bigger issue, which is alcohol consumption and possession of alcohol by minors," she said. "We have a large number of incidents that are alcohol-involved on campus."
This incident should be a lesson for students who think what they post online is private, said attorney Mark Karon, president of the umbrella group for Student Legal Service attorneys at 330 universities.
"Any information posted online, I would think the court would allow that to come in and you couldn't argue it was obtained illegally," Karon said.
Still, Gartner said, "it's a pretty shady way they got us."
"If I am going to be brought down," he said, "I want to be brought down by something more official than Facebook."
Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune