Strengthening Your Investigation With Social Media Data

When violent gang activity in the California Bay area hit a tipping point, law enforcement agents knew they needed something special to gain the upper hand in their investigations. That’s where live social media intercepts turned into the secret weapon agents needed to start making arrests. Live social media intercepts, permissible by a legal request, allow law enforcement agents to see near-real-time data from social media and webmail providers such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Google. This data could include emails, chats, GPS activity, videos, photos, and other key information.

“By seeing the conversations hours beforehand, law enforcement agents are able to prevent homicides,” explained Scott Tuma, IP Program Director at PenLink. With over 13 years of experience working closely with law enforcement at the state, federal, and international levels, Scott has a front-row seat to what an advantage it can be to pull live social media intercepts using the PenLink PLX platform.

In California, what started out as just a few gang-member targets in the investigation quickly resulted in more than 30 arrests.

“They would say, ‘Kill everyone inside, including the clerk. We need zero witnesses,’” Scott said. “With the influx of data coming into PLX from social media, multiple homicides were prevented.”

But having so much information coming in from social media companies can pose an issue for the agents monitoring that activity. With the PLX platform, the burden of manual work is lifted.

“Customers often tell me the PLX monitoring window makes it easy to see new data arriving, separate targets, and view conversations,” Scott said. “PLX saves investigators time and relieves the frustrations that come with doing social media analysis manually.”

Scott added that pulling live social media intercepts can also save money during investigations.

“Hear it straight from our customers, who’ve migrated from doing [expensive] traditional wire taps on phones, over to free-from-the-provider live social media intercepts,” he said.

In addition to preventing homicides, PLX can be instrumental in monitoring when and where other illegal activities are taking place, such as the exchange or sale of money, drugs, or guns.

“It’s easy to see what targets are messaging about, especially in group messages with images and videos,” Scott said. “In gang cases, pre- and post-execution-style videos and images are key evidence.”

These images and videos can be a key resource when it comes to both making an arrest and trying the case.

“It’s simple to export the data out of PLX and into the hands of case agents, bosses, or attorneys for them to continue working the case,” said Scott. “PLX allows seamless automation to save you tons of time and solidify your evidence.”

Scott said his involvement with cases like the California gang case that use live social media intercepts with PLX is very rewarding. In such cases, PLX is efficient, easy to use, and helpful in the fight for justice.

“There is nothing better than seeing closure to a live case that you have assisted on,” Scott said. “I take lots of pride in that—especially when a child is harmed and justice is served.”

To see a live example of how PLX can help strengthen your investigation, try a free demo of PLX with the data from one of your own investigations.