Student posts perp details to Twitter

April 20, 2009 | 14:01

Tags: #denton #information #texas

Companies: #brian-baugh #twitter

It's becoming increasingly common for police forces to make use of this wonderful collection of tubes we like to call an Internet, but when a US police force started posting arrest details to Twitter people started to smell a rat.

As reported on CNet, a user using the name “Denton Police" on the popular microblogging site Twitter started posting details of every arrest made by the Denton Police Department as they hit the computer – complete with details of the alleged offences and mug shots of the accused.

At first, it appeared that police at Denton, Texas had latched on to Twitter as a way of making the public aware that it was doing its job – but nothing is quite what it seems on the 'net.

It has since come out that the Denton Police Twitter feed was actually created by Brian Baugh, a photography student at the University of North Texas. Taking the Denton City Jail Custody Report site – which is publicly accessible – as his data source, Baugh wrote a program which would monitor the site for additions and post them on Twitter – complete with a copy of the mugshot via image sharing service TwitPic.

Speaking to the Dallas Observer, Baugh seems nonplussed at the popularity of his creation: “I guess I'm just happy that it got popular,” he says, “I thought it would just be a thing with my friends.

While Baugh might have got his five minutes of fame from his creation, the Denton Police Department is less happy: although the feed has now been modified to clarify its unofficial status, the Department is looking to get the Twitter account closed for good. Baugh points out that all he is doing is taking publicly accessible data from the 'net and converting it to a different form, and doesn't see how the Department could possibly lay claim to the account unless “they wanted to use the account for themselves.

While the service is nothing more than a curiosity – unless you're a recently arrested citizen of Denton, of course – the Denton Police Department's reaction to it does demonstrate a point: once information is out there on the web, it's – as Baugh points out - “too late to put it back in the bottle.

Do you support what Baugh has done with the PerpTwitter, or does the Denton Police Department have a valid complaint? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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