Legal and ethical issues surrounding open source research for law enforcement purposes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Citation (Scopus)


Conducting investigations online is becoming ever more frequent for Law Enforcement Officials (LEOs) within the United Kingdom. Part of their toolset for conducting these investigations is Open Source Research (OSR); in this instance, that is obtaining publicly available information on the World Wide Web. Performing OSR on the World Wide Web has seen large-scale increases for UK law enforcement, particularly after the public disorder within the UK's major cities during the summer of 2011. Over the past few years, Law Enforcement Agencies have created positions that concentrate solely on digital media, with part or all of their roles focusing around obtaining artefacts and intelligence from social media websites. However, even though the information obtained is publicly available, LEOs face a legal and ethical minefield that stretches across home and international laws to terms and conditions of social media websites. Further still, UK laws permitting surveillance, such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, pre-date the modern era of social media by a number of years. To aid LEOs, and to ensure adherence to guidelines and policy set out by Association of Chief Police Officers for conducting digital investigations, the author collaborated with the UK's College of Policing to create an open source (i.e.The software's programming code is available to view) software tool called Open Source Internet Research Tool (OSIRT). During OSIRT's development, semi-structured interviews were conducted with numerous LEOs from various constabularies and agencies to gain an understanding of how relevant current legislation is for conducting OSR. Analysis of the interviews has shown that current laws can be restrictive for LEOs when conducting OSR. This paper will look at the legal and ethical issues surrounding OSR, along with a discussion of the analysis from the semistructured interviews.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 4th European Conference on Social Media, ECSM 2017
EditorsAelita Skarzauskiene, Nomeda Gudeliene
PublisherAcademic Conferences International (ACI)
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781911218463
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2017
Event4th European Conference on Social Media, ECSM 2017 - Vilnius, Lithuania
Duration: 3 Jul 20174 Jul 2017


Conference4th European Conference on Social Media, ECSM 2017


  • Ethical
  • Law Enforcement
  • Legal
  • Open Source Research
  • Social Media


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