A lawyer in Halifax who specializes in Canadian privacy and technology says police officers have a responsibility to investigate social media threats, but must be cautious not to overreact. 

Don Dunphy, 59, was shot to death in his home in Mitchells Brook on Easter Sunday by a member of Premier Paul Davis's security detail. 

The RNC officer was investigating a perceived threat which was sent on Twitter by Dunphy two days before. 

David Fraser, a  Halifax-based lawyer who specializes in social media, said Dunphy's tweets didn't appear to be a serious threat.

"I actually had some difficulty interpreting exactly what it meant," said Fraser.

"When you look at the previous tweets, it didn't stand out to me as a serious threat but I certainly do appreciate — and I've seen this in other circumstances — that if law enforcement think that there is a basis to investigate it actually makes some sense to go further."

Fraser said in some cases police could defuse the situation by investigating via phone rather than showing up at someone's doorstep.

However, he said it is the police's responsibility to investigate any potential red flags.

"If something goes wrong and you look in 20/20 hindsight that there were tweets pointing in that direction or other information, you would say, 'Where were the police? Why weren't they on top of that?'" 

Don Dunphy


Speaking generally, Fraser said there have been cases were police have overreacted to perceived threats made on social media.

While investigators needs to monitor activity on social media, Fraser said it's important for police to have a good sense of the "distinct culture" on websites such as Twitter.

"There's something different about social media — about the language that's used — there's very often a whole lot of hyperbole."

The RCMP is investigating the shooting death of Dunphy and has called in retired Justice David Riche to act as an independent observer to the investigation. 

With files from Jonathan Crowe