In free societies, there’s always a balancing act between the police’s need to investigate and arrest criminals and everyone else’s right to be left alone unless they’re actually committing a crime. The Internet has made the debate fiercer, as police running stings and checkpoints oppose those who make a point of posting news of stings and checkpoints to the world.
The latest example comes out of Canada, where police in Edmonton, Alberta, are asking drivers to stop tweeting announcements about speed trap and checkpoint locations. A policeman told a local newspaper, “This is not a new occurrence. We setup doing laser speed detection and we get a speed trap ahead sign. So this sort of thing isn't abnormal.” But police still wish people would stop tweeting about checkpoints, because “When we're dealing with an actual criminal offense, you're assisting someone to potentially get away with it.”
Canada is far from alone in opposing online announcements regarding some police activities. In October, officers in Victoria, Australia, asked Facebook to take down a page dedicated to posting photos and identifying details of unmarked police cars. (Facebook refused since the pictures were all taken on public property, in keeping with the website’s terms of service.) That same month, a woman in Texas was arrested for posting on Facebook a photo of the undercover police officer who testified against her friend in a drug case.
And last February, the Brazilian government sued Twitter, demanding censorship of tweets warning drivers about the location of police checkpoints known as “blitzes.”
But Edmonton police, for all their opposition to Twitter, won’t go so far as to follow the Brazilian government’s lead. Police admitted that, while they can ask people to please refrain from tweeting checkpoint locations, they can’t legally force anyone to stop tweeting.