For those of us who place a high value on our privacy, navigating the many threats to it in modern-day life call for a proactive approach. But the stakes are considerably higher if you’re a member of law enforcement, and a potential target for those you’ve arrested, as well as any other belligerent parties who might seek to attack your credibility or behavior. To prevent unauthorized intrusions into your personal life, and protect yourself and your family both online and off, we’ve identified some important considerations and recommended solutions for maintaining your privacy.
Safeguard your postal mail: You undoubtedly know that plenty of bad actors continue to obtain sensitive information by dumpster diving and mail fraud. But it’s important to remind your spouse and other members of your household that criminals still use these “old-fashioned” tactics to steal private information. Emphasize the importance of shredding any sensitive documents (e.g., financial statements, pay stubs, insurance renewals) before throwing them away. Also remind them to avoid leaving documents in the mailbox overnight, and to use registered or certified mail to send confidential materials, or priority shipping that can be tracked.
Prefer to stop receiving your account statements with the “The Police Credit Union” logo hinting at your occupation on the envelope? Sign up for our secure e-statements today. You’ll receive your statements faster, and can access them anywhere, and at any time. Of course, e-statements will also help you reduce paper clutter and streamline your finances.
Use a low-profile credit card: Your preferred method of payment need not reveal that you’re a member of law enforcement to every merchant, retail store or provider, not to mention the prying eyes of others around you when you reach for your wallet. The Police Credit Union offers a low-profile version of our credit card for keeping your identity discreet. With no police-centric branding, these cards simply refer to “The PCU” rather than spelling out “The Police Credit Union.” To design your own card, visit our site here.
Recognize what you’re up against when it comes to the internet and social media: First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that profit models of social media platforms as well as search engines are based on the use, and sometimes the sale, of our personal information. Their primary source of revenue is advertising, with algorithms designed to collect information about users so that relevant ads are placed before them. The more content you share with others through social media networks, the wider the audience they can reach for the benefit of their advertisers. Given these facts, it’s clearly not in their best interest to keep our information locked down, so it largely falls on us as consumers to safeguard and monitor our digital footprint.
Even if you make a conscious decision to steer clear of social media, it’s advisable to take measures to protect yourself online. As you undoubtedly know, it generally just takes a quick search in Google or Bing to get access to information such as a person’s address, age, places they’ve lived and even the names of extended family. What’s more, you can’t always prevent someone from posting about you online, whether this is a well-meaning friend, the president of an association you belong to, or someone with an ax to grind seeking to sabotage you.
Actions you can take to protect yourself online
Familiarize yourself with privacy policies and settings: As the pro-consumer website Comparitech asserts, social media sites have been known to breach privacy laws, making it impossible to keep your content airtight. On the other hand, you can greatly limit your exposure by enabling privacy settings and filtering your posts according to your audience. It’s also wise to log out of Facebook after each use (especially while traveling or accessing your account at different locations), and disable your location settings when using search engines like Google. Find excellent pointers and specific instructions on how to control your settings in “8 Facebook privacy tips every cop should know about.”
Don’t expect information you share online to be kept private: It’s best to assume that information you disclose online will be made public irrespective of privacy controls and restrictions to your social media networks. Not only could your information be hacked, but as Police1 points out, depending on the state, employers may be able to gain access to private posts from employer-owned devices. The media outlet also stresses that your communications could be pertinent for discovery in legal cases, especially if there is a way to link a social media post back to your job.
Remove yourself from people search sites: It will cost you some money, but it’s worthwhile to protect your home address and other sensitive data by removing your profile from database search sites (e.g., WhitePages, Been Verified, PeopleFinders.com, Spokeo). According to Police1, it can take up to a month to get your information deleted from these databases, so they recommend that you start this process as soon as possible. You may also want to opt for using a service such as OfficerPrivacy, which removes you from the top 30 people-search sites that provide your home address online. OfficerPrivacy also monitors these sites to ensure your information doesn’t re-appear.
Impress upon your family the importance of maintaining privacy online: As The Public Safety Assistance Fund reminds us through their subsidiary www.privacyforcops.org, it’s easier than one would expect to connect a social media account to your family, address and other personal information. Just as it’s important to insist that your spouse, significant other and/or children refrain from telling others that you work in law enforcement, it’s also critical that you maintain the lines of communication regarding what is and what is not safe to share online.
Consider avoiding the use of your full name: Although some social media sites give you plenty of latitude when it comes to your profile name, other sites, such as Facebook, have specified strict and somewhat detailed requirements in order to prevent the use of fake names. In some cases, you may be able to stay within the guidelines by using a variation, such as using your middle name instead of your surname, or using a nickname. But this can get tricky, and there is a fine line which you can easily cross. For instance, Facebook insists that you use “the name that your friends call you in everyday life.” If Facebook suspects that you’re violating their terms by using a fake name, they’ll lock you out of your account and require that you send them a photo of an official ID to demonstrate that you’re using a real name. For advice in this area, check out suggestions from Harry Guinness in “Can You Use a Fake Name On Facebook.”
Keep accounts separated: As Comparitech acknowledges, creating an online presence may be helpful or necessary in your field. But you’ll create less opportunities for problems down the road if you use separate email and social media accounts for your professional and personal life, and refrain from logging in to your personal accounts from the device you use for work.
Choose a profile picture that doesn’t identify you: Privacyforcops.org advises strongly against posting pictures of yourself in uniform online, as this makes it easier for those with malicious intent to find you when you’re off duty, and connect you with your family. Comparitech takes this even further, recommending that you make your profile photo non-identifying, such as using an image of neighbor’s dog (as opposed to your own pet or your car, which could be more easily linked to you).
While we’ve strived to give an overview of some of the top considerations when it comes to your online privacy as a law enforcement officer, it could certainly be said that this issue is deserving of further investigation. Jon Watson from Comparitech explores the topic in depth in “How law enforcement personnel can protect their privacy online.” An excellent resource, this article provides great insight on online privacy, and detailed instructions for protecting your communications on various social media platforms, as well as help with removing data about yourself on the internet. Just be forewarned: if you weren’t paranoid before, you likely will be after reading this article.