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NZ cops use Facebook to solve crimes

By Ray Lilley
Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Police in New Zealand nabbed a man who was trying to crack a bar's safe after posting security camera footage of the act on the Internet networking site Facebook.

Police said it was New Zealand's first such arrest and said they would use the site again, part of a growing trend among law enforcement officials and lawyers who are turning to online networks to fight crime.

"Facebook was very, very handy, and it's a good little tool," Senior Sgt. John Fookes of Queenstown police told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Privacy advocates, however, were concerned about the free-for-all way in which private information is often shared on such sites, and the potential for misuse.

"Because of the inherent insecurity and the known high-level of identity deception on Facebook, it won't be very long before people start to abuse it," said David Vaile, the vice-chairman of the Australian Privacy Foundation.

Anyone could set up a Facebook page claiming to be a police officer and post photographs of "wanted" people they sought to harass, he said.

The video showed man, wearing a face-covering balaclava and carrying a bag of tools, breaking into a tiny storage room inside the Franklin Tavern in the tourist town of Queenstown early Monday. He tried to cut into a safe containing $12,000 (NZ20,000) in takings from gambling machines.

After nearly an hour in the cramped space, the man removed his balaclava and gloves and looked around - red-faced from fruitless toil. As he left, the video showed the man suddenly spotting the lens of the security camera that was recording his every move.

"He looks around and sees it and there's just a shocked look of 'gutted,' said tavern assistant manager Mel Kelly. "His face definitely drops."

Officers posted the footage on the Queenstown police Facebook page and identification was "very, very quick; overnight, we had a number of responses" from the public, Fookes said. "If we've got something that the public can help us with then we'll certainly be putting it on Facebook."

The man was charged with two counts of burglary and was due to appear in court on Jan. 26.

Queenstown police launched a Facebook site last month, and posted photographs and details of purse-snatch robberies and other crimes in the hopes of attracting useful information from Web users.

It is part of a wider trend of using Facebook for detective work by media, lawyers and others.

A court in Australia last month approved a mortgage lender's application to use Facebook to serve legal documents on a couple who had defaulted on their payments. In November, a restaurateur in the Australian city of Melbourne reportedly used Facebook to track down a group who racked up a large bill then fled without paying.

Facebook has attracted more than 140 million users worldwide since it began in 2004.

Related articles:
For police, a new crime-fighting tool: Facebook
Facebook turns tough on Web predators
Officers increasingly using online social networks for intel
Police increasingly use Myspace-like sites as investigation tool

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