Recent threats to school underscore the importance of Big Tech’s rapid responses to area police

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The usefulness of information and the speed of its delivery can be ubiquitous, and law enforcement agencies say that sometimes doesn’t happen quickly enough.

Captain Chris Helmick, of the Fargo Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, said it can be a complicated process.

“We are sometimes at the mercy of those companies that hold the data,” Helmick said.

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness slammed tech giant Google at a press conference on Tuesday, December 7 following threats on social media about a shooting in Cheney Middle School.

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The threat posted on Snapchat around 9:30 p.m. Monday caused a switch to e-learning the next day and the cancellation or postponement of some extracurricular activities.

Otterness said investigators received a quick response from Snapchat, but Google did not respond to their request on Tuesday afternoon. He said Google’s response time was “unacceptable”.

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness speaks during a press conference regarding a threat of violence at Cheney Middle School on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo.  Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness speaks during a press conference regarding a threat of violence at Cheney Middle School on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

West Fargo Police did not say what type of information was requested from Google or whether it received a response.

The Forum’s request for comment from Google’s PR was not returned in time for this story to be published.

A West Fargo Police Department communications specialist said the chief would not be able to comment on the case as the Cass County State Attorney’s Office was reviewing him for possible charges.

West Fargo Police recommended charges of terrorism, a Class C felony, for the two arrested minors, one from West Fargo and the other from Fargo.

In another case, a minor from the Third Zone was arrested on Thursday, December 9 for threatening violence against Liberty Middle School in West Fargo.

The threats all came less than a week after a student at Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., Allegedly shot dead four students and seriously injured six others.

A lawsuit seeking $ 100 million in damages has been filed against that school district and school officials, saying the shooting was “entirely preventable.”

Moorhead Police Department Detective Nick Schultz said at least 75% of his criminal investigations require digging into a person’s social media accounts.

“It’s so involved in everyone’s life now. At least one platform or another might have information that we can use in an investigation, ”Schultz said.

Law enforcement can only search for information if it is related to a crime, and not “just because we want it to,” Helmick said.

To simply determine a person’s identity, Fargo Police Detective Chris Mathson said a simple administrative subpoena had to be provided to the social media provider.

The information retrieved can include a person’s name, user name, phone number, associated email accounts, and IP address. An IP, or Internet Protocol, address is a unique string of characters that identifies each computer used to communicate on a network.

To receive information such as chat messages or picture messages, a search warrant is required.

“It requires a probable cause, and you have to explain why you are looking for this information,” Mathson said.

Requests are usually made by email, a dedicated port, or, rarely, by phone.

Mathson said Snapchat and Google have law enforcement portals through which they can directly upload requests, and that companies have teams working to collect this information.

Sometimes he runs into an obstacle when he learns of a potential suspect.

“For the most part, your bigger social media companies are very good at providing information,” Mathson said, but the time frame for receiving it can depend on their level of occupation.

Urgent or urgent requests can be expedited, but for most other requests it can take weeks or even months to get feedback, he said.

Some police social media investigations are happening at the behest of parents who are concerned their child may be involved in something suspicious online, Mathson said.

Almost as frequently, Fargo police receive cyber advice from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

If a social media company reports suspicious information on its servers and the matching credentials are linked to an ISP in the Fargo area, NCMEC sends the cyber tip to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which sends it to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. will report to Fargo Police, Mathson said. .

An example of a swift resolution of such a case occurred in 2019, he said, involving Jason William Dvorak, of West Fargo, who pleaded guilty to enticing a computer minor.

Facebook has reported messages of a sexual nature between Dvorak and a minor child.

About six hours after receiving the cyber tip, Fargo police executed a search warrant at a local truck stop and arrested Dvorak, Mathson said.

Schultz said that between cell phone communications and social media apps, additional layers of work are being added to law enforcement investigations.

For example, Facebook could respond with a PDF file of between 10,000 and 30,000 pages, he said.

This data can be broken down into sections and is searchable in some cases, he said, but sometimes it’s a matter of going through it manually, page by page.

“It really depends on the investigation,” Schultz said.


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