Social Media May Be Killing Witness Protection


The popularity of social media – and new software associated with it – may be putting people’s lives at risk.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have emerged as one of the biggest threats to blowing the cover of the hundreds of witnesses kept in secret protection programs around the country.

A former Australian Federal police officer, who spent 10 years working in witness protection and served as ​director of the AFP’s National Witness Protection Program (NWPP), has warned that such sites – with photo and tagging capabilities – pose an enormous threat to the cloak and dagger world of witness protection.

In the first report of its kind in Australia, A Critical Examination of Witness Protection in Australia, Dr Phil Kowalick cautions ” this is a new threat to the safety and security of participants that defies a legislated solution because of the unregulated and global nature of the Internet.” 

Australia has eight separate witness protection programs, one for each state and territory and a national program run by the AFP.

As well as tagging images, among Dr Kowalick’s greatests concerns is that new facial recognition software and biometrics will jeopardise the back-story of witnesses living under new names and identities.

Professor Brian Lovell, from the University of Queensland’s School of Information Technology, said that no matter how hard you try, you cannot be guaranteed that your previous social posts have been erased. “If your life depends on your identity being secret it can be very dangerous.

“It is very hard to delete all traces of a previous life,” he said. “And if you don’t have a social media profile – people are also suspicious.”

How tagging works

Tagging means that after you upload a picture of your friends to social media like Facebook, there is an option to click on their faces and type their names, identifying who is in the image. Tagging makes it very easy to find every photo featuring of that person through recognition software.

Every time you are tagged in a photo on Facebook, you will be sent a message. You can’t stop the tagging but you can un-tag yourself and request it be removed. 

Read more at SMH.

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