We have previously carried a post that discussed validity of whatsapp messages as evidence in a court of law. Also, a woman professional recently wrote about how whatsapp groups are becoming a virtual alternative to men’s washroom as far as many workplaces are concerned. There are no dearth of situations in which whatsapp has legal significance.
However, recently, a news item caught my eyes. It turns out that to crack the colaba masturbation case, where the Colaba police had only the picture of the accused to work with, and was under extreme pressure to find and arrest the person accused of misbehaving with a foreigner, they had to use whatsapp. I was so thrilled to read this, I went ahead and called my friends working in different state police forces, and even the CBI to ask them if they have seen any comparable use of whatsapp. What they told me was very interesting.
Here are some creative uses of the ubiquitous app by Indian law enforcement that you will find hard to believe!
They are crowdsourcing identification of photos through whatsapp groups
This is the most famous recent example. Mumbai police created a group called Eyes and Ears, to establish identity of a man who was accused by a foreigner of having musterbated at her. All they had was a photograph and absolutely no idea as to who it is. They added a large number of informers from Colaba to make that identification. Here is an NDTV report that confirms this.
They send fake whatsapp messages from seized phones to catch accomplices
When they arrest an accused, one of the first thing police do is confiscate their phone. First they go through whatsapp messages to identify if there are any accomplices or incriminating conversations. If they have suspicion of any accomplices, they even send fake messages pretending to be the accused to see how those people react and sometimes even to trap them. This is over time becoming standing operating procedure for police all over India according to my friends who would not like to be identified.
They create whatspp groups of informers and sources for quick communication
Police has started to create whatsapp groups where they add informers, responsible citizens and sometimes people from civil defence organizations so that they can gather intel about emergencies quickly, or spread a message amongst a large number of people very quickly. This has proven to be a useful strategy in case of riots and insurgency in some states. This has been experimented with in jungle areas to stop poachers also, where police may have to collaborate with forest guards. In many cases, informal whatsapp groups have proven to be useful as information got broadcasted in a large group of people distributed in different locations seamlessly.
Taskforces create whatsapp groups for seamless communication
Police has not heard of Slack yet, but most officers now use smartphones. The young officers are also very comfortable using whatsapp. In many cases, for seamless communication and coordination amongst members of a team, whatsapp groups have become very useful and a method of preference.
They trap criminals by adding them on whatsapp
It is an ancient method for police to trap criminals by posing as customers looking to buy something illegal, like arms or drugs, and even trafficked women. There is an element of danger in meeting criminals in person under cover. In this age of technology, criminals have embraced technology which helps them to avoid unnecessary meetings. Hence, a lot of information gathering, bargaining, planning etc happen with the use of technology like whatsapp which makes physical meeting unnecessary. Realizing this, police officers also have started to use technology to trap criminals. They send whatsapp messages to criminals posing as buyers or suppliers – and that apparently works quite well!
However, one area this is extremely useful is apparently with paedophiles. In that case, police set up a fake profile of a young girl and use this to honeytrap known paedophiles against whom they have information but not enough evidence to build a case.
Have you heard or known any interesting stories about how law enforcement uses technology like whatsapp? Please share in comments.