NC SBI requested Instagram account data in probe of nude student photos

rgallagher@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2014 

— The State Bureau of Investigation got a search warrant for user information and content for 15 Instagram accounts in its probe into who posted nude photos of Wake County school students on Internet accounts one evening in February, according to court papers made public late last week.

The agency also wants to find out who signed up as followers for those accounts.

The investigation began with Wake County schools and has grown to involve several North Carolina counties.

In applying for the search warrant, Special Agent Kevin G. Roughton said the information connected to the accounts in Instagram, owned by Facebook, could help officials bring charges of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and cyberbullying.

Almost 70 nude and sexual images of local high school students were exposed to thousands of their peers and whoever else was watching on Feb. 11.

Screenshots of the photos, given to the Wake County Public School System, made it “readily apparent that some of the images contained child sexual exploitation and were designed to be embarrassing to the individual pictured,” Roughton wrote.

Superior Court Judge Quentin T. Sumner approved the warrant Feb. 28. Roughton returned the warrant, which is done after it has been served, to the Wake County Clerk of Courts on Thursday.

One of the accounts he listed was among four accounts for which the Wake Forest police department had obtained a search warrant as it began the investigation.

The information Wake Forest got back revealed that “each of the four accounts contained images of child sexual exploitation, as well as many instances of nude/semi-nude images ... which appeared to be for the purposes of embarrassing, harassing or tormenting the individual pictured,” Roughton told the judge.

A student who reported the photo outbreak to Wake County school officials the night it was happening estimated that the number of followers who wanted to see the pictures in an account got as high as 7,000.

Some of the screenshots sent to school administrators showed some accounts had up to 1,700 followers when the shots were captured, the warrant application states.

In his application, Roughton told Sumner that the data he wanted to collect included a list of all followers associated with each account.

The agent said that data would show “all IP connections, including attempted connections, to the accounts specified.”

Within that data would be information about any mobile devices used, including the phone numbers, Roughton wrote.

Gallagher: 919-829-4572

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