File photo: Matt Rourke

Cape Town - A legal expert has warned against the loading of pictures of so-called suspicious-looking people on to social networking sites as a method to combat crime.

This after the Facebook page – Rylands, Penlyn, Hatton Estate – Community – allowed residents to upload images of people they thought were suspected criminals.

One of the page’s three administrators, Saahier Parker, said it was created about two weeks ago and intended to mobilise the community against crime in the area. It followed a spate of business robberies and murders in the area, he said.

But city attorney Sakkie Krouwkam warned that if the people whose pictures were posted on the page were innocent and had never been charged with any crimes, Parker and his partners were opening themselves up for legal action.

“It is a dangerous road to walk. I think (the administrators) have good intentions, but I would advise against it.

“It would seriously damage the reputation of the people accused,” Krouwkam said.

On June 11, the page posted: “Please provide context for photos you upload, if it’s of suspects, criminals caught or shady-looking cars and characters in the area. That way we know why items are being shared”.

About 15 images of different people have been uploaded on to the page.

Parker said only “verifiable” information was fed on to the page, although he admitted that there was no verification process involved in the uploads.

“The page is not meant to incriminate anyone, or encourage vigilantism. We are concerned about the safety of our community.”

Zaahir Hamid, another administrator, said: “We rely on the honesty of the public that when they upload pictures, it is of people that have been caught in the act.”

Athlone Community Policing Forum chairwoman Aziza Kannemeyer said it was investigating the establishment of the page, and would discuss the matter with the administrators and residents.

“We welcome any effort to fight crime, but this is a tricky situation. Photos of unknowing people can’t just be uploaded this way.”

After the Cape Times spoke with Parker and Hamid, all comments about the pictures were removed.

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Cape Times