Facebook has finally agreed to assist police in the search for a missing schoolboy – but, shockingly, it has taken the internet giant something in the region of two months to do so following his disappearance from the sleepy Devon village of Membury in the west of England.
Arthur Heeler-Frood, 15, was last seen on September 6 after leaving home on his bicycle to go to school and has since vanished without trace.
Facebook accused of obstructing police efforts to find missing teenager Arthur Heeler-Frood https://t.co/zwz9DH7Ho0
— Daily Mail U.K. (@DailyMailUK) November 14, 2016
It is thought that Arthur may have been in contact with an individual or a group on the social media platform. Despite this – and despite the fact that Facebook could therefore hold key information as to the boy’s whereabouts – the social networking site initially refused to help his family and local police forces in their search up until this point. Why?
When approached by Heat Street, Facebook did not comment.
Arthur’s family have shed more light on the case, revealing how he took just £350 with him and left his bank cards, mobile phone and passport behind. Arthur’s family believe that he was using Facebook to communicate with somebody unknown to them the night before his disappearance, and that his communications may help find their son.
Despite six pleas to Facebook to help with the search, the company refused to assist.
Arthur left a note for his devastated parents.
“I have run away because I am bored of my life. Please don’t try to find me or make me come home. I don’t know how long I will be away for, but it won’t be any longer than a year.”
Arthur then left instructions as to the whereabouts of his school uniform, his bike and the key for his bike lock, before adding: “I know you will be upset, but understand that I have to do this.”
This is every parent’s worst nightmare but it has surely been made worse by Facebook’s flat-out refusal to share any information that could lead to the boy’s whereabouts being established.
Facebook helping police in search for missing teenager Arthur Heeler-Frood https://t.co/ACrmK8ORql
— The Guardian (@guardian) November 13, 2016
Local authorities are no better, with Devon and Cornwall Police refusing to explain when and how Facebook came to suddenly change its policy on helping with the disappearance of Arthur. A spokesman told Heat Street yesterday that they “have contacted Facebook and they are assisting with enquiries into the disappearance of Arthur Heeler-Frood. We are not in a position to offer any further detail into this matter, at this time.”
The law is not adequately formed in this area to be definitive. Common sense should therefore prevail. The boy’s parents should have been afforded access to their child’s Facebook account – or the police should have been, at any rate – as soon as they asked for it. A 15-year-old boy may think he is grown-up, but in the eyes of the law he is a child. Any responsible company would have recognised this from the start of this particular mystery.
This isn’t the first time that internet giants have been unwilling to use their unfathomably large reach and influence to assist the authorities crack cases that could secure the safety of individuals or companies.
Just last year, Apple rejected calls to unlock terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone after Farook perpetrated an attack in which 14 people were killed and 22 seriously injured at the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino, California.
Claiming that assisting Apple would violate security and privacy, the company released a statement reassuring us that “we have no sympathy for terrorists.” It went on to say that (whilst “we have great respect for the professionals at the FBI and we believe their intentions are good”) assisting the FBI in their investigation would “hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements’ and ‘make our users less safe.”
Well that is all very well, but what of cracking the case? Is privacy really so precious, and so sacred, that it supersedes the necessity to bring justice to killers?
Privacy is indeed sacred – particularly in a world in which everything is accessible and information, photographs and opinions are broadcast to unknown audiences and cyber clouds all around the clock. Everybody knows it is truly vital to protect oneself and everybody welcomes their privacy being guarded by Facebook and others – but not when the safety of a child is at stake, surely?
Let us pray that Facebook’s negligence doesn’t have any impact upon the safe return of Arthur Heeler-Frood.