How “Checking In” on Social Media Can Lead to Robberies

We’re all tempted to do it. The moment we leave for vacation or sit down at a fancy restaurant, we post about it online.

checking in on social media and robberiesWith our ever increasing need to post about the details of our lives, we are subjecting ourselves to be targeted by robbers. No longer are the days when robbers sit outside your house and wait for you to leave. All they have to do is open Facebook, see you’ve gone to a bar across town, and know exactly how much time they have to ransack your house.

A poll in the U.K. revealed that 78% of vandals admitted to using social media websites to track down home owner’s whereabouts. Even scarier, 74% of convicted burglars admitted to using Google Street View to get a better picture of a house and it’s lay out.

Here is a list of five things you should avoid posting to social media to avoid robberies:

  1. Never post when you’ll be out of town or away from your house for a long period of time. It may seem like “checking in” at a restaurant on Facebook is harmless. But a robber can look up how far away that restaurant is, and plan his timing to get in and out before you know what happened. Also, posting a picture to Instagram of a meal is somewhat okay, but tagging the restaurant you’re at is something to avoid. Even posting a photo of a meal at a restaurant will indicate you’re away from home. But tagging the restaurant will give the robber even more information on how much time they have. Lastly, if you don’t turn on your privacy settings, sometimes sending a Tweet or updating your status will attach your location to it. Make sure to turn this option off in your settings.
  1. Don’t post about expensive or luxury items you have or recently purchased. Whether you are describing your recent loot from the mall, or posting a picture of your new Prada purse, any post involving luxury or expensive items can make you vulnerable. Especially avoid describing where the item is in your house. If you post your new diamond necklace is kept in your closet, it will make it that much easier for a robber to find and steal.
  2. To state the obvious, never post your exact address. And if you want to be extra careful, try to avoid posting the specific town you live in. Seems a bit much? A perpetrator can look up your town online and see the average income of the area. If it’s a wealthier neighborhood, they are more likely to track your whereabouts and rob your house.
  1. Don’t upload any pictures that reveal what your house looks like on the outside or inside. If you show what your house looks like from the outside online, robbers are able to find it a lot easier. Posting pictures of your new living room Ikea furniture, or the pool in the backyard, gives robbers a blue print to follow when entering your house. These pictures will make it that much easier for robbers to navigate, and also know where you keep certain expensive items.
  1. Even if you don’t post about your vacation or time away from home, a friend might tag you in a post revealing your location. Make sure you let your friends know you do not want to be tagged in anything that will hint your whereabouts. Also, turn on the privacy setting on Facebook that makes it mandatory to get your permission before you are tagged in a photo.

So next time you’re tempted to share a picture of yourself laying on the beach in Bali, think twice. Robbers are as digitally savvy as the rest of us, and depend on your status updates to steal your possessions. Shy away from posting about the fabulous restaurants you go to, and just stick to selfies instead.

New Illinois Law Makes It a Felony to Record Police

Thanks to Illinois, we have a clear winner for the honor of “Worst Law Made in 2014.” It takes real nerve to write a law that claims to protect citizens’ rights while actually violating two rights in the Constitution.

illinois record police new lawI’m talking about Senate Bill 1342. This is a law that makes it a felony to secretly record private conversations. The bill passed the State House and Senate and is awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature.

A previous law had been overturned by state and federal courts in 2012. That law was considered too broad as it would have criminalized recordings of sports games as well as police conduct. SB 1342 attempts to “fix” the problem by limiting criminalization to recording of “private” conversations where at least one person in the conversation has a reasonable expectation of privacy recognized by law. That provision doesn’t sound too bad, even if it is super vague.

However, SB 1342 has two big problems. First, the bill contains a laundry list of exemptions for police officers. A police officer can record private conversations during an investigation of child pornography or sexual exploration of a child if the officer has the approval of a state attorney. This is highly worrisome considering that the Constitution requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge to conduct a search. The police could say that recording a private conversation is not a search, but police wouldn’t be listening in on a conversation if they weren’t looking for evidence of a crime. SB 1342 looks like a power grab by police trying to circumvent the courts.

The second problem with SB 1342 can be found in the sentencing guidelines of the bill. If an individual is found guilty of recording a private conversation between ordinary citizens, then it’s considered a class 4 felony for first time offenders and a class 3 felony for repeaters. However, recording a “private conversation” involving a police officer, state attorney, attorney general, or a judge during the performance of their official duties results in a class 3 felony or a class 2 felony for repeat offenders. In other words, it is a worst crime to record the private conversations of police or government officials than it is to record ordinary citizens.

Proponents of the bill claim that the purpose is to protect the right of privacy. The language of the bill indicates that the real purpose is to expand the powers of state police. The list of exemptions is mostly for police officers.

Under the bill, it is perfectly legal for police to record private conversations if the police suspect there is exploration of a child. Also under the bill, it is perfectly legal for police to record traffic stops or to record when emergency sirens are on. And yet, when ordinary citizens try to record the police, the ordinary citizen is punished more severely.

Police can legally record ordinary individuals but the bill attempts to make it a crime if ordinary citizens attempt to record the police.

This one-way street is fundamentally unconstitutional. The 7th Circuit, the circuit that oversees Illinois, has made it very clear that audiovisual recordings are part of free speech and that infringement of audiovisual technology violates the right to free speech. More importantly, the 7th Circuit also held that the purpose of the First amendment is to protect the “gathering and dissemination of information about government officials performing their duties in public.” It is the right of citizens to record police officers during their official duties and to share that information with the greater public.

SB 1342 proponents will point out that the bill only criminalizes the recording of private conversations. If a police officer is interviewing a witness at a police station, it would be illegal for a private citizen to record that conversation without the consent of the officer and the witness (the officer needs the consent of the witness). Recordings like the death of Eric Garner would not be considered a “private” conversation and would not prosecutable under this bill.

The problem is that the definition of “private” under the bill is extremely vague. The “expectation of privacy” has to be recognized by law, but laws change all the time. Who can say whether “privacy” won’t expand to include areas we normally think of as public? If Europe can expand privacy to include the Internet, it’s hard to tell where the privacy line will expand to.

Moreover, police prosecutions are not the point of the controversy. As the Eric Gardner indictment, or lack thereof, showed, not even video recording is a guarantee that police will be held accountable if they go overboard. The real point of recording police is so that the larger public will be informed. The protests that sprang out of Ferguson and New York might be frustrating, annoying, and lack a clear goal, but the protests are the point. The people have the right to know and the right to be outraged by what the police do in their name.

If You Drank Red Bull and Didn’t Get Wings, You May Have a Legal Claim

Everyone knows the slogan: “Red Bull Gives You Wings.” Most people would consider this slogan to be comical and would never expected to actually grow wings. But one man decided this was false advertising. Since he drank Red Bull and didn’t get wings, he was determined to make Red Bull pay.

Red-BullBenjamin Careathers sued Red Bull for false advertising. He complained he has been drinking the energy drink for 10 years and has never gained wings or improved his mind or athletic ability.

A Red Bull spokesman stated that the company “maintains its marketing and labeling have always been truthful and accurate, and denies any and all wrongdoing or liability.” However, to avoid a time-consuming trial and immense funds to fight the claim, Red Bull decided to settle the case.

They agreed to a settlement of $13 million, including $6.5 for a fund to reimburse those who have purchased a Red Bull (estimated 1.4 million customers) between January 1, 2002, and October 3, 2014. The settlement  is yet to be approved by the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. The hearing will occur on May 1 2015. If approved, Red Bull will have to hand over $6.5 million to a fund for consumers to collect their share.

Comical and ridiculous? Absolutely. But there’s nothing funny about a $13 million settlement. This case proves just how careful you have to be when involved in an advertising campaign. As a consumer, if you didn’t get wings from drinking a Red Bull, you can go online and submit a claim now!

Guilty or Insane: A Closer Look at the Slender Man Killing

Two twelve-year-old girls lead their friend into a forest in Wisconsin. They start playing hide and go seek. Then, the two girls attack their friend. Stabbing her 19 times with a knife, they hit her liver, pancreas, and stomach. They only miss hitting an artery near her heart by a millimeter.

The victim crawls out of the woods to a road after her attackers have fled; almost bleeding to death, she’s found by a bicyclist. Miraculously, she survives.

Slender Man KillingAlthough this sounds like a horror movie, it’s a true story that occurred in Wisconsin on May 30, 2014. Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were the perpetrators who almost stabbed their friend, Payton Leutner, to death.

What influenced this murderous act? What could have had such an effect on these two young girls, to make them want to kill their friend? It all started from a completely fictional online character: Slender Man.

Slender Man was created by Eric Knudsen, who submitted a Photoshopped picture to the online forum Something Awful. The character was created for the websites contest for fake supernatural photographs.

Morgan Geyser, top left, Anissa Weier, bottom left, Slender Man on the right.

The two girls discovered the character on Creepypasta Wiki, and immediately decided to become “proxies” of him. In order to please Slender Man and prove their dedication to him, they believed they had to kill someone. Which is what led them to attempt murder on Leutner.

This case exemplifies just how powerful social media can be. According to Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack, “The Internet has changed the way we live. It is full of information and wonderful sites that teach and entertain. The Internet can also be full of dark and wicked things.” Although necessary in this digital age, the internet can produce a blurry line between real life, and online personas.

Both girls have been tried as adults, and can face up to 65 years in prison. The next court date is December 18, 2014. Geyser, deemed incompetent to stand trial, will attend treatment with a possibility of becoming competent enough to attend court.

So, are the girls guilty or insane? If Geyser’s attorney was to defend her based on an insanity defense, she would have to take the Model Penal Code test. This test is used in Wisconsin insanity defense cases. The test determines if the defendant suffers from a mental defect. This determines if the defendant “either failed to understand the criminality of his acts, or was unable to act within the confines of the law”.

We won’t know the answer to this question until the trial is over, and for a case like this, it could be a while. This horrific case shows just how powerful social media can be. It’s vital to make the lines crystal clear between real life and social media personas you may have. Getting caught up online can get you into a lot of trouble; in a professional, social, or even legal manner.

Did Congress Just Block Marijuana Legalization in DC?

People often complain that Congress doesn’t do anything. The naysayers believe that partisanship has created a gridlock in the legislative branch, preventing any laws from being passed. Well, with less than a month before the new Republican controlled Congress replaces the old divided Congress, senators and representatives are lining up to show that they can get things done. The first item on their list was the No Social Security for Nazis Act (the name speaks for itself). The second item on the agenda is a federal spending bill for 2015.

dc marijuana lawsThat might not sound very interesting, but federal spending bills usually hide all kinds of controversial provisions. Politicians often use these bills to fund organizations they support and defund organizations they oppose. Exhibit A is recreational marijuana in Washington D.C. Last election, voters in the District of Columbia voted to decriminalize and legalize cannabis. That’s hardly surprising. Before November, the local penalty for marijuana possession was a mere $25 fine. Traffic tickets are more expensive than D.C. marijuana fines. So it was hardly a shock when D.C. voters approved Initiative-71, an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, by a solid majority of 70%.

If D.C. was a state, the initiative would have been become law. Under the Constitution though, Congress has final control over Washington D.C. If D.C. passes a law that the federal government doesn’t like, Congress has a month to overturn it. Congress often meddles in D.C.’s politics, blocking nationally controversial laws such as abortion and medical marijuana. Congress is expected to do it again.

The federal spending bill has a provision that would prohibit federal and local D.C. funds from being used to implement an initiative legalizing marijuana. Although the White House had warned Congress against interfering with the marijuana initiative, President Obama will likely sign the bill since vetoing the federal spending bill could result in another government shutdown.

Drug Policy and Progressive Ideals

The most disappointing aspect of this bill is that Congress really didn’t have to take this step. Indeed, both parties could benefit from a change in drug policy.

Democratic leaders in Congress will attempt to portray the bill as a compromise to save the initiative. The D.C. provision would theoretically prevent local D.C. government from creating regulation to sell and grow marijuana, but decriminalization would be preserved. Given the recent racial tensions in Ferguson and New York though, fully defending the D.C. marijuana initiative should be more than justified. Eric Garner died after a police confrontation over cigarettes. Democrats understand that drug enforcement is often arbitrary and minorities are incarcerated more because of drug traffic laws. This was an opportunity to change our archaic drug laws in a tense political climate and Democratic leadership squandered it.

Drug Policy and Conservative Ideals

Republican policy on drugs is even more perplexing. While Democrats understand that drugs lead to more minority arrests, current drug laws are contrary to the principles that Republicans stand for. Republican congressman cannot claim to be the party of limited government and local governance while simultaneously using federal power to block a popular local initiative approved by voters.

Reversing the War on Drugs is more beneficial to Republicans on other political fronts. Illegal immigrants from Central and South America come to the United States because their countries have been turned into cesspools by large drug cartels. These drug cartels are multi-national empires built on the black markets created by our drug laws. We can put up as many walls as want and deport as many illegal aliens as we can, but the long-term solution will be to shut off the drug cartels that are driving illegal immigrants into this country. Republicans cannot stop illegal immigration without changing our drug laws.

It’s amazing how many political issues are connected to our drug policy. Illegal immigration, racial equality, police militarization, and prison overcrowding are all tied into the massive drug system we’ve built. The D.C. initiative was the perfect symbol of change. Instead, Congress has decided to keep a broken status quo. We don’t need Congress to pass more laws. We need Congress to have better vision.