Your Google Searches May Be Used Against You In A Court Of Law

from the so-you-know... dept

While there appears a ton of other evidence (digital and otherwise), one of the pieces of evidence in the murder trial of a man accused of killing his wife was that he searched for "neck snap break" on Google soon before he allegedly killed her. It sounds like prosecutors figured this out just from looking at his computer, rather than by getting the info from Google. Either way, for the potential criminals among our readers, perhaps you shouldn't Google up stuff related to your crime before committing it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Andrew Strasser, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 7:07pm

    You computer keeps copies of everything.

    Did you really miss the annoying on-line reminder of this that has plagued the internet. I back-up and wipe my drive every few months just because it makes the system run better period. I've used other techniques that even cost money but this is the best one I've found.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    eskayp, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 7:15pm

    Tracking perps online

    Interesting tug-of-war on this issue between individual freedom/privacy on one hand, and public safety on the other.
    Could this murder have been prevented by scanning popular search engines and evil how-to sites?
    OTOH how many of us want our web adventures monitored, databanked, and reviewed for possible 'criminal potential'?
    And how long would it take before 'criminal potential' morphs into 'politically undesireable' and then 'liquidation'?
    How do we get past having to choose between saving lives and saving freedom?
    Is there a way to accomplish both?
    The pragmatist in me says prevent or minimize death and destruction.
    The idealist in me says preserve individual freedom and privacy.
    Heh, our present administration seems unable to do either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Tony K, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 7:54pm

    Googling

    It could also conveniently be used to set someone up to make it LOOK like they did it, as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Hey, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 8:40pm

    Re: Googling

    Don't you agree that it is a good thing that evidence, no matter where it was located, aided in the prosecution of a dangerous murderer? Get real, if a pedophile is in my neighborhood and the law uses search strings he typed in Google to locate child porn, use the evidence and lock him up. It's a good thing, I am not saying give up privacy, but if you are going to use services like Google, read the user agreement! If you think it is too invasive you have a choice, don't use it. If you don't wipe your hard drive, and commit felony crimes, tough shit. Go to jail, the world will be a better place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Evidence of nothing, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 9:39pm

    Digital Evidence

    Bits on a hard-drive can't be dusted for fingerprints.
    Windows has had numerous zero-day exploits for the entire history of the OS.
    Police shouldn't look for a shortcut around good traditional forensic work in "digital" evidence.

    (And I agree that these criminals need to get caught, just realize any defense attorney with a teensy bit of understanding of computers is going to have this thrown out very quickly.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    eskayp, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 11:00pm

    Re: Googling

    The current online molester stings by law enforcement are a good example of preventing harm by employing modern tech.
    Also, web investigations and tracking have exposed a city official in Spokane, WA. trolling for homosexual partners and offering them city employment.
    A separate incident resulted in the arrest of an individual researching and purchasing ingredients to make ricin -- a very lethal poison.
    The downside comes when people (usually in authority) misuse technology to attack others who are on their enemies list.
    The problem is how to protect the public while also assuring their freedom and privacy.
    Prehistoric man faced a similar problem with fire, which could protect him or kill him.
    Many millenia later fires continue to warm us and harm us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 11:30pm

    Re: You computer keeps copies of everything.

    I did a search on google.com for "neck", "snap", "break", and "hold".

    I tried every combination and looked through tons of pages. I can't find shit about breaking someone's neck.

    I then proceeded to find articles about how to break a neck using my own personal searching techniques. I couldn't find shit.

    http://www.totse.com/en/bad_ideas/irresponsible_activities/22kill.html

    That url is to an article containing "22 ways to kill a man with your bare hands."

    None of the 22 ways to kill someone from that article would seem like an accident.



    I'm not buying anything the prosecution has on this guy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 11:34pm

    Re: You computer keeps copies of everything.

    "Edwards said the Google searches just came up, though the investigation began nearly two years ago."

    For me, the first place to search is the history of the web browsers...

    Sounds like a set up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anand Kishore, Nov 11th, 2005 @ 11:42pm

    Google Search Profiles

    Now that Google has integrated its services like Orkut with the Gmail id it seems to be creating a profile for their users. Also it keeps a track of your searches based on your id. This way alot of info can be gathered about a person for example his/her interests, activities based on the search queries...interests based on the communities joined in Orkut etc.

    But using this info in the Court as evidence sounds baffling as there is no way to establish whether the search qery was actually performed by the particular person. For instance I keep my self logged into Google with "remember me" option. In my absence it could be misused.

    Andy
    Da Tek ee

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    ThinkBot, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 3:31am

    Re: You computer keeps copies of everything.

    Remember ol' Isaac Asimov? Then you might remember him writing about why robots couldn't be a witness. Because you can tell them to lie! It's not too far from today's computer witness. Even I could set up an incriminating Google search history at any time.

    It’s scary to think such a piece of evidence is used without knowledge of its authenticity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Joe, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 4:11am

    No Subject Given

    Above artice contains the line: Technical experts from the Irish police fraud squad later examined Whelan’s work computer and found searches like “How long does it take to die from asphyxiation?”
    He got life in Jail....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    JoBlo, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 4:18am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    You are asking the questions that are ultimatly is wht this country may or maynot stand for. When we the people were givin all these rights back in the day, there has always been someone high in the food chain wanting to take away are freedoms. I beleve that if we want to keep these freedoms we need to fight for them, and not just sit here talking about it...

    Your freedom is worth much more than this government wants you to beleve. They give you the preseption that it is better for "us" to let the goverment control what they determan what is right for us...

    Only "the people" should have the right to choose what we consider is an important freedom.

    I would much rather have the right to own a gun, with the thought that some one else will have a gun and possably harm me with it, than the government just say that know one can have a gun except for us the "government" because of the millitary or some other bullshit excuse. If this were to happen we the "people will not have anyway to stop the "government from wanlong into owr homes and doing what ever the fuck they want because they are the ones wi the guns... This also goes along with damn near any other "Freedom/righs/safty" issue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 4:29am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    Actually, it's not the government that's pushing gun laws, it's the police. They are the ones that usually end up on the other end of the barell.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Whitelitr, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 5:21am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    No, it is not the Police, as a retired Police Officer I can say that we recognize that when the citizenry is armed, our job is easier and crime rates go down. You will see big-wigs in the Fraternal Order of Police or the Nat'l Assoc of Chiefs of Police pushing for guns laws, but not the line officers that is actually out there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Tom, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 6:01am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    No, it's not the police pushing gun control. The police know all too well that the guns used by criminals are not legally purchased guns and, therefore, won't be affected by more gun laws.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    patrick, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 6:21am

    Re: Digital Evidence

    Um, on what grounds? Just because the evidence isn't 100% isn't a reason to throw the out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Dave McBride, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 6:31am

    Nice Headline Grabbing

    So the real issue here is that evidence may be leveraged against you from your internet cahce not from your google searches. That doesn't make quite as snappy a headline though does it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    nobody, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 6:42am

    in that case

    Get as many people as possible to touch your keyboard on a regular basis, and never clean it.
    Surely then there would be no way to prove who was searching for what.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Andrew Strasser, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 7:49am

    Re: in that case

    They can know everything you do as you do it in most cases. They can monitor and change things. Weird things can happen with your computer. They are not a viable solution to law enforcement. Of course they are needed for that as well as most everything else in the world. At least the laws do state that it has to be in it's original device for it to be used in court, though as said above with expert witness you could easily have that changed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    hAcKeR eXtRaOrDiNaIrE, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 8:01am

    I'll frame you if I want...

    At this day and age, computer evidence and the art of computer forensics is far more hazy and tricky. If I wanted to, I could get you arrested and ensure the evidence is solid enough to lock you up or otherwise F@CK your seemingly normal life up...and it would be relatively simple. Simply plop down at a local Starbucks (or any other open WiFi spot) long enough for me to access your computer. Even someone with simple System Administrator skills can do this. I can snoop around your hard drive to find out your name and even perhaps your phone number (but a name and a call to 411 will suffice). I can then copy over a nice little collection of kiddy porn to your hard drive. I then make an anon call to my local authorities with some made-up story that will prompt a visit to your house where your computer will be confiscated. You will be caught red-handed with the evidence and you are now guilty in the eyes of the local news, neighbors, your job, your family, and so forth.
    Think it can't really happen?? Do a quick search on the case of Julian Green in 2002. One of countless examples....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Teh_0n3, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 8:02am

    wtf

    he could of done a yahoo search too you dumb fucks

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Mandrew, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 9:15am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    What happen to our right to keep and bear arms I believe as our country`s founding fathers did and most of the people living here do guns do not kill people,people do the killing,it does not matter were they learn how to kill it is still done by a person,after reading about this court case and how it took the DA and local police two years to come up with it,sounds like it must have been a election year,WE THE PEOPLE still have a say in the way things are done anybody else ever heard of the BILL OF RIGHTS besides me???

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Frank, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 9:20am

    Re: Digital Evidence

    I saw a quote the other day that I think is a pretty good response to patrick's comment.

    In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” --Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1945


    Food for thought.


    Eventually the little things add up to bigger things. By then it's generally too late to do anything but scream.

    I'd rather fight to keep the freedom's I have.

    There are no shades of grey when it comes to evidence that may or may not lead to a conviction in what, in some states, could be a capital offence (Meaning they kill you). Evidence HAS to be 100% or what is the point?

    You can't go up under oath in a court of law and state, "We're not 100% sure the search was done by the defendant, but that it was on his computer and found sometime later, it has to be his".

    That right there introduces "Resonable Doubt". No prosecutor in his right mind would try to bring in evidence that wasn't clearly an asset to the case.

    So, to you patrick, shame on you, just because it doesnt affect you now, it might. Then what?


     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 9:43am

    Pretty Misleading

    Google has nothing to do with auto-complete being turned on within your browser. Auto-complete works the same for any search engine. The fact that they used Google was irrelivant. That is a terrible headline.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Going into Law, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 10:01am

    This is why

    This is why I am going into law school, coming from a previous decade plus of computer work.

    Jurors, judges, and attorneys no very little about technology. They use expert witnesses, but that only goes so far. It isn't the same as the attorney knowing the technology.

    There is little doubt in my mind that there are a substantial number of people who sit in prison today because they were framed using computers. During trial, the right questions weren't asked; the right case wasn't made. And something that was just a sequence of bits on a hard drive was distorted as if it were the same as a pool of blood.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Kat, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 10:16am

    Re: Googling

    I agree with Tony K.... it could be very easy to set someone up using the internet. ... but... on the other hand... I agree with you too.

    but what of the situation, where more than one person are living in a house... and multiple people use the same computer, how do you then prove who actually looked at what? I live with 3 other people, with 5 computers in the house, we all use all the different computers at different times...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Kat, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 10:22am

    Re: No Subject Given

    That just seems like a silly thing to get life in jail over... maybe he has a morbid sense of curiosity... or.. maybe he was looking up information for a character in a story... or... any number of things could cause him to want to know the answer to that....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anger Monkey, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 11:49am

    I may finally

    start using filevault in Tiger. Personally in this case it seems subjective as to whether it can be used as evidence, many people know how to do many things that are deemed dangerous or are actually illegal, but last I checked knowledge isnt a crime, maybe a health risk if you are viewed as a future threat by a government or crime syndicate.
    I see my computer as an extension of my mind and I believe I have the right to know anything I deem interesting and as long as I do not inflict harm on another person and do not solicit others to do so my privacy should be respected. I am glad that several US supreme court justices believe that the bill of rights guarantees a right to privacy

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    .treo., Nov 12th, 2005 @ 12:13pm

    Re: wtf

    pfft... searching yahoo is like using internet explorer... so overdone...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    none, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 12:52pm

    Almost right

    "...for the potential criminals among our readers, perhaps you shouldn't Google up stuff related to your crime before committing it."

    You should Goolge stuff up, just be sure it's on the PC of a plasuable suspect.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    tommy, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 1:13pm

    Re: Digital Evidence

    You know it really makes me laugh.But i know it's not funny.But anytime a crime is commited and the person has a computer in his home,They grab they hard drive.That's kinda stupid?Well if it's child molestration,ok i can see it.because most that commit these crimes picks up kids in chat.But any thing else i wouldn't look to deep on the persons computer.But you right evidence is evidence no matter where from.Then there's proving it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Midnight, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 3:19pm

    Google

    If this man had half a brain, he would have cleaned out his web History, cache and other traces.
    What a Moron!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    NoMorePoints.com, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 6:46pm

    Google-ing

    Question? If you google the winning lotto numbers and you win the next day, will they take your money away?

    NoMorePoints.com

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Stoned4Life, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 8:16pm

    Re: Tracking perps online

    Umm, scanning this information for possible 'criminal potential'? Anyone seen the movie Minority Report? If we start jailing every person who does a "how to" search on killing someone, probably 1 in 1000 might be serious.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 10:23pm

    No Subject Given

    Security is an illusion, Protection is just an excuse to take away your rights.

    Trading freedom for an illusion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2005 @ 10:27pm

    No Subject Given

    Wipe your HDD before you kill someone, people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Fleshbiter, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 12:19am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    I am a cop and I can tell you that 99% of us do not support gun control. Most of us want an armed public, as we believe it saves lives. Criminals want the gun control, it makes their victims easier to control. Who would try to mug, rob, rape, etc. a person they know to be armed? They will find the easier target.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Fleshbiter, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 12:26am

    I think we've missed an important point

    Nowhere in this article are they saying this is the only evidence they have. Certainly there was more evidence than just the hard drives. I'm sure the google searches just support other evidence in the case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Tim, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 4:58am

    Re: Digital Evidence

    Frank writes:
    > That right there introduces "Resonable Doubt". No prosecutor in his right mind would try to bring in evidence that wasn't clearly an asset to the case.

    In some countries/courts/cases you also have the concept of `balance of probability'. Treat it for what it is: a single data-point of evidence with error-margins around it. Let the prosecution raise it, but also let the defendants counter if they can.

    Personally I'm sort-of glad they actually found it on his computer - one hears a lot of them being taken and not so much of the outcomes. Plus it's better than the RIAA/MPAA approach where they need to prove a link between "something to do with this IP#" and a given person.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    A.S., Nov 13th, 2005 @ 9:19am

    Re: Tracking perps online

    An armed society is a POLITE society.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    @$$, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 3:13pm

    Re: Tracking perps online

    Yea because every one is to scared to do anything. Bob: Ohh hey Jerimy
    Jerimy: ahhh terorist BANG

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    sparko, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 6:49pm

    wat the heck

    isnt that invasion of privacy or something


    -SPARKO

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    computer cop, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 8:52pm

    Re: wat the heck

    RTF Posting...

    the searches were found ON THE SUSPECT's computer. Google doesn't store that. Take the fact that they are one of the largest search engines and then multiply the amount of storage it would take to catalog everyone's search terms, ip addresses, etc.

    Forensics on computers are very involved and very detailed. You can try to plant evidence all you want, we'll figure it out

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    dan, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 9:24pm

    Re: wat the heck

    ok computer cop, but realize google has over 500k machines in every major city in the country. Thats a lt of storage.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Marshmallowclock, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 9:56pm

    Heh.

    That's actually a bit funny. But if you are going to end up killing someone relying off of your google, you'd best delete your history first.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    schirk, Nov 13th, 2005 @ 10:26pm

    Re: Heh.

    And probably have a program that generates random information on your hard drive of retarded 0's and 1's that mean nothing. When you delete something it's not gone, it's just not there for the eyes of the common user; It's gone when something else takes its place. And plenty of hardly "sophisticated" computer analysists dealing with crimes will have some sort of software that can recover deleted files from beyond the grave. That's why when you see movies and the bad guy is about to get it he takes a magnet to his hard drive, cuz just deleting his incriminating files won't do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Joe, Dec 2nd, 2005 @ 1:43pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Actual URL is above

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    I don't know, May 7th, 2006 @ 7:06pm

    Ha!

    I tried this because my friends told me to, right? Well nothing happened. This site was one of the many that pulled up. It's actually kind of funny. I said "I heard someone knock on the door" and they said "Just get out of google search and delete all of the history relating to 'Neck' 'Snap' 'Break'." I died of laughter. I was a bit scared that it'd trigger an alarm like they said it would but yea right. Nothing happened.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    comment0r, Nov 30th, 2006 @ 1:29am

    jo oida, des is jo vui zach! wos sui der schas? checkt's ihr des? wo kumm ma denn do hin? vadaummta übawochungsstoot!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    benkt, Nov 30th, 2006 @ 1:31am

    Re:

    i totally agree

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    identicon
    the wrecker, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 2:44am

    google searches

    DUH!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Seth, Apr 3rd, 2010 @ 8:14pm

    Re: Tracking perps online

    No because for those who are doing other stuff on the internet should not be punished for what some people look up. I am not saying that scanning the mans computer could have saved her life but is there total evidence that he killed her? We do however have a right to our own searches. There is no reason to search other peoples browsers because of what one man did.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This