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Post With Extreme Caution: Your Social Media Updates Can Sink Your Criminal Defence

Police and Crown Prosecutors Will Use Your Posts Against You

If you are not using social media, your kid, friends and the people around you likely are. Social media use has exploded over the past decade, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and new sites popping up seemingly every week being places to share the latest news, gossip and photos. But social media users should understand that it’s not just their friends who can see what they’ve been up to. So can police officers and prosecutors.

It has become almost standard operating procedure for police and Crown Prosecutors to look at social media posts and photos as part of their investigations and then use that information as evidence in their prosecutions. Social media websites contain features and information that police officers can use to learn or prove:

  • A suspect’s location,
  • What a suspect was doing in the days and hours leading up to the crime,
  • Potential witnesses or accomplices, and
  • Background information on the witness and suspect

In addition to using social media to identify pieces of evidence that will help prove their case, law enforcement and prosecutors use the Web to organize public outreach efforts and solicit tips on unsolved crimes. Many police departments including the Toronto Police Service have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and use these avenues to relay important public safety information to the public. Conversely, the public can use social media to relay information to the police. Case in point: after the rioting that engulfed Vancouver after the Canucks won the Stanley Cup in 2011, so-called “Facebook vigilantes” uploaded thousands of photos and other information to social media sites which police used to identify and track down those responsible for the mayhem.

There is No Privacy on the Internet

While the evidence that is used against defendants often comes from posts and photos by strangers or friends, it is very common that a defendant’s own ill-advised posts about their exploits winds up doing them in. When posting that picture of themselves at the bar the night that they are later arrested for impaired driving, a defendant may try to take comfort in the fact that he’s set his “privacy” settings such that only his close friends can see what he posts. Or, perhaps the next morning, they may try to delete the photo which now looks so damning.

Unfortunately, neither of these attempts to minimize the damage will do any good. Canadian law enforcement officials can and do routinely obtain the court orders, subpoenas, or search warrants necessary to obtain subscriber information, history, and content from social media networks located in the U.S. such as Facebook and Twitter. For Canadian sites or networks, the process is even easier. The Canadian Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) allows Canadian companies to voluntarily release user information and content to authorities even without a warrant or order. And they do.

You wouldn’t stand outside of a police station or courthouse telling all those within shouting distance about what you did, who you were with, or other tidbits of information related to acts that could get you prosecuted. When you post words or pictures containing that same information on social media, you are doing just that.


Since 1996, the law firm of Mitch Engel, Barrister & Solicitor has been providing clients throughout the Oshawa, Brampton, and Mississauga areas with top-level criminal defence representation, including protecting the rights of clients from unreasonable searches. Mitch Engel understands what acceptable police conduct is and will fight to protect you against actions that violate your rights. With an exclusive focus on criminal defence, he has keen insight into successful defence strategies and is passionate about helping his clients achieve the best possible resolution to their matters. Call Mitch Engel at <ahref=”tel:1-866-761-7077″>(866) 761-7077 to get the legal advice you need to reclaim your life.


The materials provided on this site are for information purposes only. These materials constitute general information relating to areas of law familiar to our firm lawyers. They do NOT constitute legal advice or other professional advice and you may not rely on the contents of this website as such.

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