Today's criminal investigations aren't unfolding in back alleys or street corners, but on Facebook and Twitter. That's the argument put forth by Winston Ross, who, in a recent piece for the Daily Beast, describes today's increasingly web-based prosecutorial landscape as "cops-and-robbers 2.0." Ross' article is framed around one Travis A. Nicolaysen — a five-time convicted felon who is wanted by police in Washington, yet continues to regularly update his Facebook page, providing his online entourage with details on his latest law-evading exploits, and receiving encouragement from friends and family.
Authorities have yet to apprehend the fugitive, but his online trail is certainly making their jobs a lot easier. The challenge for police, though, is one of agency. How can you prove that a person's words are indeed his own when they're scribbled across an opaque, two-dimensional forum? Where do you draw the line between a person and his online persona? These are the basic questions that authorities will need to ask themselves as social networking becomes ever more pervasive, and as privacy standards become more malleable. In the meantime, they'll be keeping close watch over the web, and criminals, it seems, will continue to validate their efforts.