California Asks Facebook to Close Down Prisoners' Accounts

Categories: Law & Order, Tech
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Would you be his Facebook friend?
Prison is just that place where you have tons of time to kill (no pun intended) and not that many friends. So it makes sense that inmates in California prisons are finding creative ways to access Facebook and other social-networking sites. However, the state has caught onto this disturbing trend, and has asked Facebook to close the accounts of the incarcerated.

"Access to social media allows inmates to circumvent our monitoring process and continue to engage in criminal activity," CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate wrote in a letter to Facebook. "This new cooperation between law enforcement and Facebook will help protect the community and potentially avoid future victims."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons National Gang Intelligence Center has reported increasing instances of inmates with active Facebook accounts who are using them to send threats and unwanted sexual advances.

It seems the active accounts are maintained illegally by inmates or are administered by an outside person on their behalf.

According to the CDCR:

Last year, CDCR received a call from a mother of a victim of a child molester. The family had just returned from vacation to find several pieces of mail from the offender who was in state prison. The mail contained accurate drawings of the woman's 17-year old daughter, even though it had been at least seven years since the offender had been convicted and sent to prison. Details of the victim, such as how she wore her hair and the brand of clothes she wore were accurate. An investigation revealed the inmate had used a cell phone to find and view the MySpace and Facebook web pages of the victim. With access to the pages, the offender was able to obtain current photos, which he used to draw his pictures.

While inmates are allowed to have accounts prior to incarceration, Facebook will close the accounts if there is any evidence that prisoners have accessed them while behind bars.

But prisoners are illegally using cellphones to surf the web and access social networking sites. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported that more than 7,284 contraband mobile phones were found in state prisons in the first six months of 2011. That's a huge spike from 2006, when there were only 260.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told SF Weekly that if the state has decided that prisoners have forfeited their right to use the Internet, the most effective way to prevent access is to ensure prisons have the resources to keep out smartphones and other devices. 

"We will disable accounts reported to us that are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts that are updated by someone on the outside," Noyes says. "We will also take appropriate action against anyone who misuses Facebook to threaten or harass."

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