PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Internet-savvy police in Paris have started using social networks such as Facebook to appeal for witnesses to traffic accidents in a move some residents say smacks of Big Brother-style spying tactics.
Since January 1, Internet users connecting to the Paris police force's Twitter or Facebook page have been invited to provide information to help solve hit-and-run cases that have occurred in the notoriously crash-prone city and its suburbs.
A link directs users to the city police's main website, where they can find details of incidents, including dates, times and circumstances and a map of the location.
"These appeals for witnesses are an important element in solving crimes. Someone could easily have seen something and only remember it later," Xavier Castaing, head of communications for the Paris police, told Reuters.
Paris police are not the only force to turn to social media to try and crack difficult crimes. Detectives in Britain recently launched a Facebook campaign appealing for help catching the killer of landscape architect Joanna Yeates.
Castaing did not say whether online witness statements were already helping hit-and-run cases, and some members of the public complained on news websites that the initiative will encourage people to snitch on others.
"People will just use it to report their neighbors, to get back at them or harass them," was one irate comment posted on news website Le Post.
"It's really dangerous, we're getting into a system that can rapidly spiral out of control. The walls have ears," said another comment on the website of L'Express.
Castaing brushed off the idea the initiative could be regarded as spying.
"This kind of accident could happen to any of us, and for ideas of road safety to progress we need people to face up to their responsibilities," he said.
He said it was too early to say whether the initiative would be a success, but he hoped users connecting to the police Twitter or Facebook sites would spread the word.
For the time being, the Paris police Facebook page has some 700 "friends," or cyber acquaintances, more than the average web user, but still a limited network for crime-solving.
Reporting by Vicky Buffery; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato