November 16, 2017

Playing Batman on social media

Recently snapshots of CCTV footage of a suspected car thief were posted and distributed on social media.

The suspected thief was acquitted by the court, after he argued that his conviction was based on a prejudicial identity parade, because his face had been all over social media before the identity parade.

Sounds peculiar, but this is a true story and it just shows you how hazardous posting photos and CCTV footage on Facebook and WhatsApp can be.

Usually, when someone posts a photo or video of a suspected criminal online, they do so with the intention of participating in the fight against crime and assisting the SAPS in bringing thugs to justice. Unfortunately, doing this can actually help criminals get away with their crimes.

Posting footage of suspected criminals not only jeopardises SAPS investigations and the state prosecutor’s case, but the person posting and distributing the photos and CCTV footage could also face criminal charges. Every accused person has the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent and a very important principle of our criminal justice system is that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.

Section 69 of the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995 prohibits the publication of photographs or sketches of certain persons in custody. For the purposes of this Act a “photograph” includes any picture, visually perceptible image, depiction or any other similar representation of the person concerned and “publish” means the exhibiting, showing, televising, representing or reproducing the “photograph”.

Section 69 of the Act states that : –

  1. No person may, without the written permission of the National or Provincial Commissioner, publish a “photograph” of a person who is a) suspected of having committed an offence and who is in custody pending a decision to institute criminal proceedings against him or her, (b) in custody pending the commencement of criminal proceedings in which he or she is an accused, or (c) or may reasonably be expected to be a witness in criminal proceedings and who is in custody pending the commencement of his or her testimony in such proceedings; and


  1. Any person who publishes a “photograph” in infringement of the above, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months.

Section 69 specifically refers to suspects who are already in custody, while postings by the public will most likely relate to suspects who are still at large. However, the SAPS, or whichever authority is gunning for you for having published a photograph of a suspect may not see it that way.

What if you are not the original poster of the photograph?  Well, you know the saying that the “dealer is just as guilty as the stealer”.  If you share the image on social media, you are also committing a criminal offence and exposing yourself to possible criminal prosecution.

It is, therefore, now more than ever, important to be not only careful, but also responsible in your fight against crime when using social media.

There is no need to put away your batman suit, however. Just make sure, when taking on the role of Bruce Wayne, to rather be safe than sorry. After all, who doesn’t need a superhero?


Almie Fourie

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