THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING EDITION OF THE IPA JOURNAL
The days when police officers enjoyed an air of secrecy around their activities, both professional and off-duty, are long gone.
It is now commonly accepted that every police intervention or even an innocent interaction with members of the public is being filmed, overtly or covertly, or at least captured by the ever-present CCTV systems.
And while there’s nothing wrong with the ideas of transparency and openness, police officers must remember that online social media platforms do not forgive or forget anything.
At this stage every police service around the world has experienced cases where their members, having conducted a duty at some contentious or controversial event, were later identified on social media, subjected to abuse and had their privacy breached.
In some cases this can even go as far as attacks on police officers’ homes or members of their families.
So here are some steps that we can all take to guard are online privacy a little bit better:
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1. KEEP SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILES PRIVATE
Check your security and privacy settings and do not allow people you don’t know or are friends with to view any content on your profiles.
Keep those photos, posts, comments and updates to your close and trusted network of friends.
2. KNOW THAT ANYTHING YOU PUBLISH CAN BE MADE PUBLIC.
Even with private accounts, you must realise that one of your friends might screenshot some of your content and share it outside your social network.
Think twice before posting anything. Remember, anything that goes on the Internet, stays there forever!
3. PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY
Think whether it’s really necessary to have your full name and a clearly identifiable photograph as part of your profile identity.
In particular, you should avoid using photos depicting you and your family members.
4. WATCH WHAT YOUR FRIENDS SHARE
Opt out from being “tagged” in photographs, especially in circumstances that might lead to somebody discovering your pattern of activities, where you live and socialise, where your children go to schools, where your spouse works, etc.
5. REMOVE YOUR DETAILS FROM THE PHONEBOOK
Not many people nowadays use landline phone numbers, yet phone directories (both online and paper ones) are still in use and may contain your full details, including home address.
If you have (had) a landline or consented to your mobile phone being published in an online phone directory, contact the phone operator and request that your information be delisted from public records.
6. AVOID LOYALTY CARD SCHEMES
Loyalty cards and various marketing schemes lure people with promises of “freebies”, once they sign up to newsletters, deals or online research.
These are just alternative methods used by companies to extract personal data from customers.
Corporations prioritise financial profit, not data security and privacy of their customers (regardless of how often they say that your privacy is very important to them).
Avoid those and remember: if you aren’t paying for a product – you are the product.
7. USE ALTERNATIVE PAYMENT & SHIPPING METHODS
Minimise the exposure of your financial details as well as your home address for postal deliveries.
Any time you buy something online, you send the company you purchased from your full personal dataset.
Hacks and data breaches happen regularly and personal records leak out all the time.
If possible, use pre-paid online debit cards (N26, Monzo, Revolut) and use parcel drop-off services (Parcel Motel) for your online shopping.
8. DO NOT USE “LOGIN WITH FACEBOOK / GOOGLE” OPTION
There are plenty of apps and websites that want you to create an account with them or login using your existing Facebook / Google profile.
Don’t do that – because if you do, you automatically give access to all information attached your Facebook / Google account, such as current city, job, phone number, family info and whatever else you disclosed on your account.
Even if you set it to private!
9. GOOGLE YOURSELF
Check how much information about you is publicly available.
Assess what you can delete and how to go about it.
Google alone routinely collects massive amounts of data on every single user.
Make sure to minimise the exposure of your personal data with Google – check out https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity and adjust the content you allow Google to track.
10. KNOW YOUR RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN
Any EU citizen is entitled to have certain personal information removed from public records.
This right is strongly outlined in the GDPR legislation.
For instance, if you were recorded and personally identified while on duty, subjected to online abuse, had personal details published against your will, you can apply to the website administrator to have the offending content removed.
Such applications must be honoured under the EU privacy laws. You can also request removal of certain records from Internet search engines for privacy reasons.
Like it or not, the moment any content is published online, it’s out of your control.
Regardless of whether it surfaces on social media, messaging apps, websites or online forums, it rapidly gains momentum and can go “viral” in no time.
The best idea for a police officer is to limit personal data exposure and treat social media as an adversary rather than a friend.
The good news is, however, that the over a decade-long trend of our infatuation with Facebook and similar sites is coming to an end.
Recent data breaches and privacy violations perpetrated by social media giants gave many users food for thought regarding sharing private data with social networks.
Hopefully this reversed trend continues to grow, as well as the public awareness of how to protect personal data.