Facebook’s use of facial-recognition technology has come under much scrutiny, particularly in Europe, but it also helped lead to the arrest of a man in Myrtle Beach, S.C., for possessing images of child abuse. UPDATED: As it turns out, while Facebook did assist law enforcement with the investigation, the social network’s facial-recognition technology was not a part of the process.
The State reported that Joseph Robert Smith faces a felony charge of sexual exploitation of a minor in the first degree, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the social network helped lead law enforcement officers to Smith, as it was used to help identify his alleged victim.
According to The State, the Homeland Security division in Boston was investigating a separate case involving child pornography, and it was able to retrieve images that had been deleted from a seized hard drive, noticing that the file names of those images were consistent with those used for images on Facebook.
The agents contacted the social network, The State reported, and Facebook was able to match the images on the hard drive with images of a female child on the account of a woman’s page. The woman was not a suspect in the investigation, and the images of the child on her page were not pornographic.
Federal agents then used a nationwide database to track the woman to the Myrtle Beach area, according to The State, and they searched for male acquaintances using the state’s driver’s license database, eventually zeroing in on Smith.
After Smith’s residence was raided Sept. 24 and computer equipment was seized, he admitted that he produced and shared the images, saying, as written in the affidavit on the case and reported by The State:
He would save child pornography from his email accounts onto his computer and delete the emails after a period of time, but he said there should be some emails in the accounts that he has not deleted.
Facebook Spokesman Matt Steinfeld told The State the company does not share information about cooperation with law enforcement.
Dean Secor, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Charleston and coordinator of the Project Safe Child program in South Carolina, told The State:
In the past, we’d look at telephone records and email records. Now, more and more, you’re seeing subpoenas for social media accounts. We’re utilizing information from social networks on practically any kind of case.
If something pops up in a case where we find out that a social network is involved, we’ll utilize whatever is legally available to us through a search warrant.
Myrtle Beach Police Department Lt. David Knipes said of using social networks as part of investigations:
Absolutely. We would be missing out on a great source of information if we didn’t.
Readers: Does this story make you feel any better about Facebook’s use of facial-recognition technology?
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