Do police read indymedia (and myspace, etc)?
Cops use indymedia, myspace, and blogs as a source of information to investigate you.
Yes. They do.
Do they follow links and take note of connections?
Yes, of course.
Myspace, blogs, and online networks are like a dream for police investigators. Where they used to have to go out and interview people, check records, walk the street, now they merely have to go online. Investigation from the convenience of their offices.
I took part in a demonstration and was arrested. Afterward, the police contacted my employer to suggest that they check up on me. I got a copy of the police report yesterday and was surprised to find that the police had gone beyond just the basic facts of my arrest.
They had tracked down the website for my band, followed a link to our myspace page, and from there tracked down my personal myspace page. In my profile I had some pretty cheeky anti-authoritarian hyperbole and that was quoted in the report. "Subject says in his myspace profile that he is 'looking for someone to turn over and burn police cars with,'" a dumb comment that had been part of my online profile for many years. There was a print out of my entire myspace profile, band website, etc. All of this info had been passed on to my employer.
Why this should surprise me, I'm not sure. It is something I should totally be aware of by now.
And while I wasn't arrested while burning police cars, nor was there any suspicion along those lines, my employer sure takes such things seriously, especially coupled with a heads-up from the local police. The implication and insinuation that someone is involved in something gnarlier than they are can be easily made. Just because you are non-violent (and even law-abiding) doesn't mean you can't be charged with something violent.
Imagine what might be said about your myspace profile: "Subject lists as their myspace friends 'Support ALF,' the Animal Liberation Front, a group whose members have been convicted of arson and long watched by the FBI as a serious potential terrorist threat." Bullshit and circumstantial connections notwithstanding, the implication is there for a prosecutor to use.
This goes beyond myspace and Indymedia to other online communities, facebook, blogs, tribe.net, friendster, etc. Cops look at these public sites and use the information they find.
And while I don't imagine that local law enforcement has the time or resources to randomly surf online sites in order to make connections, they do investigate people who've come to their attention. Local cops have told me that they read Indymedia daily. And it is certainly not beyond the means of the feds to map out networks of connections and involvement. Online profiles and blogs have definitely been used against people in criminal cases.
So not to make anyone paranoid, but just a word to be cautious and careful. In general, internet security is non-existent. And if you are truly and deeply concerned about it, you should not be using the internet at all. But if you do, some simple principles might keep you safer (or at least make it harder for law enforcement to keep tabs on us):
NEVER discuss illegal things online.
Be careful about cheeky hyperbolic braggadocio (lesson learned!)
Be aware how much one can gather about your connections to others
Don't provide identifying information that makes it easy to make connections (far from fool proof)
Limit who has access to your personal info if possible
There are probably a lot of great resources for keeping yourself and others safer. Goggle for "security culture" and you'll find stuff. Here's a good one I found: CrimethInc Primer on Security Culutre