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Keep it Secret…Keep it Safe: Good Advice for Corrections and Social Networking
By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Published: 12/20/2010

Secret For sometime it has been sound advice not have family pictures displayed in one’s office or workstation. This was a safety precaution. After all one didn’t want an offender to know about your family or what they looked like just in case they decided to retaliate against them. Likewise, it was professionally not a good idea to discuss personal details or specifics of one’s life with their correctional clients.

We know have social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook®. In getting ready for this column I decided to do some informal checking to see what correctional professionals were doing on SNS. By searching for employers with corrections, prisons, probation, parole, etc. I came up with current and/former employee at state, federal and private sector correctional entities. I easily found hundreds, if not, thousands, of correctional employees from all levels and agencies, posting an unbelievable amount of personal data online for anyone to see. Correctional guards were posting their significant others/spouses names and ages of their children (with pictures), right on the profile. Of course all their friends were also listed as well. Some were allowing me to see what they were up to as well.

In many ways this is much worse than having a portrait in your office. Those pictures didn’t have names, ages, schools, employers, their schedule, etc. on it. Additionally, it is tough to make a copy of a portrait but SNS information is there for anyone, and can be printed out and provided in hard copy format rather easily.

So how big of deal is all this readily available information? Would your activities be of interest to offenders? What would any offender do with this information about the individuals who are charged with controlling them or supervising their actions?What about a prison gang? Would they be able to use this information to their advantage? Anything that might cause you problems with your employer? What if an offender had knowledge of that information? Would they be able to extort you to do something, even minor, with that information? I believe most of us know the answers to these questions. Clearly, knowledge is power.

Now many of you are thinking, gee, I am really careful. I don’t list any one’s names. I might have my friend’s listed but so what. I only allow friends to see my pictures and my posts. How hard would it be to get added as a friend, from say high school? You know someone the class above or below. How diligent are we in verifying they really are a high school classmate? Once we let them in, they now have access.

Prison staff may feel somewhat immune to these concerns. After all, inmates are in custody, presumably without access to the Internet or Facebook®. What about their friends on the outside? What about their criminal associates? What about former inmates? You really think they can’t get find you on a SNS? This also is not just some vague warning. There have been real world cases of law enforcement and corrections being attacked through information they posted on a SNS.

How Your Facebook Profile Should Look to Non-Friends

The good news is we control the information that is posted in these forums. Some good Facebook® safety advice can be found here -> 5 tips to protect yourself on Facebook. Additionally, I would strongly encourage making many of the Facebook® settings “Only me” with “Friends Only”, as a second option. The “Friends of Friends” option is very tricky as you are depending upon your friends and/or coworkers to be just as mindful of who they allow in or to see their information as you. (Above is a image of a Facebook Profile with the setting set to “Only Me”) .Finally, set your profile at the most restrictive search setting so you can’t be found easily. As the quote goes, “Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe,” sound advice for those in corrections with a social networking presence.

"Art Bowker has over 25 years experience in both law enforcement and corrections at the state and federal levels. He has been an Executive Committee Officer for the High Technology Crime Investigation Association (htcia.org) numerous times and is also on the Technology Committee for the American Probation and Parole Officers Association (appa-net.org). He has a Master of Corrections degree from Kent State University. Follow Art on Twitter.com at:(http://twitter.com/Computerpo)

Visit "The Three C's (Computers, Crime & Corrections)" blog by Art Bowker

Other articles by Bowker:


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  2. FlyFoxx on 12/27/2010:

    Thank you for the enjoyable article, reiterating what I knew but one can never be reminded enough!

  3. prznboss on 12/23/2010:

    Another tip for safety: Don't come to work at a prison dressed like the women in the picture!!!

  4. MDOC4life on 12/23/2010:

    Great article! I often mention the same thing to new hires... anything they post is visible to others. We've seen staff from all law enforcement backgrounds terminated from employment for posting inappropriate information on social networking sites so the concern is not just safety from offender families looking you up for retaliation but also the way you put yourself in the public eye as a corrections professional. We are judged by our actions not only at work but in our personal time as well... The scariest thing I've seen out there is staff posting from work! That threatens the safety and security of the facility as well as the individual who has a cell phone in a restricted area. Corrections professionals need to remember they represent their profession no matter what they are doing, it's the only way to stay safe out there!

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