A still from YouTube video prosecutors say is Michael Dixon, 40, of Country… (Chicago Tribune/From YouTube )
Chicago has something of a YouTube problem.
As social media sites grow in popularity and police investigators become increasingly savvy to them, more local residents are being charged with crimes after their alleged offenses wind up on social media.
In just the past week, Chicago Police officials have charged two men with crimes related to videos posted to the public video sharing site.
In one instance, a man was accused of threatening a city official's life in a YouTube screed against city-issued parking tickets. In another, a Pilsen man allegedly documented himself torturing rodents, and police arrested him after finding two YouTube videos.
These instances were far from the first time criminal activity came to light via public videos. Perhaps most well-known is the video documentation of the violent, fatal beating of 16-year-old Chicago student Derrion Albert, which helped city officials investigate and prosecute his death.
Some legal experts say that, because Internet privacy case law is still evolving, users may not understand just how easily law enforcement agencies can track their online activity.
"YouTube is pretty public," said Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal defense and advocacy nonprofit that works on digital rights issues. "Obviously if the video shows them doing something illegal, something stupid, and the police see what they see, then can use their sense to investigate."
Fakhoury said sometimes police officials will ask YouTube officials for a user's account information. Though it is possible to keep one's YouTube account relatively anonymous by not sharing one's full identity on it, police are still sometimes able to use what information they have to build leads and eventually find a suspect.
But from the point of view of internet privacy advocates, these concepts are still legally tricky, Fakhoury said.
"The courts have generally said that people don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they turn over information to entities like a social media site," he said. "That when you post to Facebook, you kind of surrender your right to privacy. EFF doesn't necessarily agree with that; we think privacy is a more nuanced thing."
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