Articles Posted in Criminal Threats

Our lives are increasingly being surveilled by law enforcement. From facial recognition software to license plate readers and so many other technological systems you have probably never heard of, law enforcement can track a person’s almost every move. While most individuals are not being actively and personally surveilled and tracked by the police, anyone who becomes a target for investigation or triggers an investigation due to one of the many technologies law enforcement deploys, can find themselves in a personal dystopian nightmare.

That is what happened to one young man in Florida. Google informed this young man that the local police had demanded the data from his Google account. He had only seven days to oppose the release of the data. He had no idea why the police would demand his personal Google information. After some investigation of his own, he learned that the police wanted his data in connection with a burglary near his home. Knowing he had nothing to do with this burglary, and not understanding why the police apparently connected him to it, he borrowed money from his parents to hire an attorney.

The attorney learned that the demand was in connection to a “geofence warrant.” You have probably never heard of this type of warrant, but law enforcement agencies are ramping up the use of geofencing in their investigations. A geofence warrant allows law enforcement to compel a technology company to provide anonymized location records for every device used within a certain geographical location within a certain time period. So far, the only geofence warrants have been on Google data users, but the warrants can be applied to any cell phone or other GPS provider.

With so many tragic mass shootings in recent years, law enforcement is under pressure. There are allegations that the FBI failed to investigate information they received about the recent Parkland, Florida shooter and that some of the responding officers did not act to stop the shooter. Law enforcement has a tough job. Should they act on every suspicion? Should we turn our schools into highly patrolled police zones?

A week after the Parkland school shooting, the prestigious Harvard Westlake school in Los Angeles was closed after a former student, Jonathan Martin, who had also been a football player for the NFL, posted a photo on Instagram showing a rifle with #HarvardWestlake and #MiamiDolphins text on the gun.   Mr. Martin was arrested for the post.

There have been numerous threats on schools, prompting law enforcement to respond to each one of these threats. Even when it was reported that two students were overheard that they wanted to “shoot up” a Los Angeles area high school, law enforcement rushed in and arrested the two. Virtually every day there is news that the police have arrested someone who made a threatening post on social media, called in threats, or were heard making threats. Often when the police act on these reports, guns are found on the arrestee’s person or in their home. In the case of Mr. Martin, he reportedly had at least one gun in his possession. In another recent arrest of an L.A. area 17-year-old who made threats against a high school in Whittier, law enforcement found two assault weapons, two handguns, and 90 high-capacity magazines at the home the boy shared with his father.

A new phone app called “Yik Yak” has become extremely popular among teens over the last several months. The app was originally created and meant for college-age students as a virtual campus bulletin board. It is a location-based app, which allows people to interact, “anonymously” with those around them. Although meant for college-age students and adults, younger kids, in middle school and high school can download the app fairly easily. This has become a new, increasingly serious problem as the app has been used for cyber-bullying and threats. Creators of the app say whenever a threat is posted to the site, it immediately begins working with law enforcement agencies in the area to track down the suspect.

The attraction for teens to this app is that it is “anonymous” and therefore, teens feel safe in posting whatever they want without the fear of being found out, or caught. But, in this situation, it is not truly anonymous. Anything you post on line can be traced and, according to the police agencies, the police can find out who you are, will find out who you are and will arrest you.

A recent bomb scare at San Clemente High School, in Orange County California, was a result of a Yik Yak posted threat. It forced the school to shut down and required the bomb squad and bomb-sniffing dogs to be deployed to the school. The school was later safely cleared but police are still actively pursuing the person who made the threat. If police are able to trace the threat to the responsible person, that person will face felony criminal and/or terrorist threats.