Policing in an Information Age

The widespread adoption of social media is changing the way we communicate, and in turn changing the nature of criminal activity and crime prevention.

Platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow the police to include the public in law enforcement in new, potentially transformative ways. But they also make these engagements more difficult to control, and open to misuse and reputational damage. They allow the police to gather powerful, recent and possibly decisive intelligence – social media intelligence or ‘SOCMINT’ – in the interests of public safety. But there is a risk that this will be done in a way that is unsound, unsafe, and radically undermining of public trust.

This paper summarises the key opportunities and difficulties social media presents for engagement, intelligence and enforcement as the technology becomes an inevitable part of 21st Century policing. It also proposes a clear legal framework that police should use when monitoring social media that follows the principles at the heart of the British model of policing: legitimacy, accountability and proportionality.