Meet Your Newest Law Enforcement Partners: Netflix And Spotify

from the recently-watched:-Taken-1-3,-Once-Upon-a-Time-in-Mexico dept

The internet has been tripping up dumb criminals since its inception. Police used to have to raid residences for incriminating Polaroids. Now, the criminals are saving them that step. Hashtagged bragging combined with location-tagged photos of criminal behavior has Darwinned the stupidest criminals right into the hands of local law enforcement. Not resetting stolen devices to "factory settings" after stealing them also snags a few thieves, who can easily be tracked by their victims.

But in this case, it wasn't social media or HTC Pocket Narc 4G selling out these alleged child abductors. It was music and movies.

After [accused kidnapper Brittany] Nunn no-showed for a custody exchange in the early days of December, investigators went to her Wellington home and found indications she and [accused accomplice Peter] Barr, 33, had apparently left in a hurry.

Early indications suggested the family may have been in Minnesota where Nunn had family. But those tips never panned out, leaving [Drew] Weber and other investigators with a search unlike thousands of other custody disputes.

The case inched forward as days turned to weeks.

Then, a break.

Drawing on new investigative tactics, Weber executed a search warrant and pulled records from Nunn's Spotify account. He found it was being used from an IP address in Mexico. He later pulled search records from Netflix and Nunn's other accounts and eventually tracked a package that Nunn had ordered to be shipped to Cabo San Lucas.
Neither company at this point offer a Transparency Report detailing requests from governments and law enforcement agencies for user information. And neither would offer any comment on this story. But this would seem to be a good time for both to consider providing this information going forward.

At this point, the only references to law enforcement activity on either site pertains to reports of fraudulent activity related to unapproved charges or stolen credentials. But obviously any service that tracks IP addresses, user activity, location data or other internet detritus is susceptible to examination by law enforcement. Services like these that are infrequently served by investigators are likely far less prepared (or willing) to challenge subpoenas.

In this case, an actual search warrant appears to have been issued, which would make the return of applicable information almost automatic.

In any case, with previous news that intelligence/law enforcement agencies using everything from Instagram to Angry Birds to locate criminals/terrorists, this news shouldn't be all that surprising, even if the sources of the information are somewhat novel.

Convenience frequently trumps privacy, and having movies and music on tap instantly is something most people would find difficult to give up. Kudos to law enforcement for finding yet another way to track someone down, but those more privacy-minded are going to need to weigh instant access against the wealth of information collected by these services. Netflix -- thanks to pressure from rights holders -- has been forced to show a public frowny face re: VPN usage, and Spotify -- as another IP-reliant service -- is likely to do the same if the issue arises. If this pressure continues, it will be your privacy or your access, rather than a more balanced exchange.

Filed Under: law enforcement, privacy
Companies: netflix, spotify


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 13 Jul 2015 @ 7:22am

    Plain old investigative work. Why do we need to give up privacy and encryption again? If law enforcement put effort where it is needed (and act accordingly with the info collected) they don't need to erode free speech, privacy and other Constitutional rights to do their jobs.

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

    • identicon
      Someone, 13 Jul 2015 @ 8:25am

      Re:

      It definitely looks like police followed the right legal and moral procedure here. They couldn't find the guy. So they went to a judge and got a search warrant to compel the companies to provide them only the relevant information to the case and nothing broader just like they would have done for any other business record. It was extremely narrowly crafted and intended only to get information on a single individual. So yeah, looks good to me.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 10:01am

      Re:

      "Why do we need to give up privacy and encryption again?"

      Because those darn terrorists aren't that stupid. All those hundreds of thousands killed by terrosits attacks in the US could have been saved without encryption... Oh, wait those were car accidents and encryption had nothing to do with it.

      Those terrosist attacks against the US were in Afghanistan, Irak and other mid-east countries, sry my bad.

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

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 13 Jul 2015 @ 8:35am

    Looks like PrivateInternetAccess has a Mexico exit node. Now I'm going to have to start using it when I'm watching Netflix, Because Silly.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 8:59am

    An individualized, limited warrant obtained through a transparent legal process.

    This is exactly the kind of thing we should be praising.

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

  • identicon
    Michael, 13 Jul 2015 @ 9:30am

    Drawing on new investigative tactics, Weber executed a search warrant

    Yup - looks like a new tactic. I really hope others start using it.

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

  • identicon
    Big Brother, 13 Jul 2015 @ 9:47am

    Hogwash!

    You never mentioned how the NSA's bulk records collection was referenced to capture these fugitives.

    There is NOW WAY they were aprehended without the use of privacy invading bulk records collection!

    I refuse to believe this hogwash about valid warrants being suffecient to aprehend criminals.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 10:09am

      Re: Hogwash!

      They missed the part where a titpic was matched to a titpic taken earlier. Maybe a vagpic or fullbodypic or a hypercybercloudai was used... anyway the bulk records helped!
      Yeeeeeah!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 10:35am

    why is this news on this site?

    they did the right thing, got a warrant, and found a kidnapper. WTF else is new.

    in the old days, it was blockbuster rental receipts, and credit card data.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 10:50am

      Re:

      >why is this news on this site?

      Paranoia pays the bills.

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

      • identicon
        David, 13 Jul 2015 @ 11:14am

        Re: Re:

        Here's the paranoia:

        The NSA actually had all this information, but they used parallel construction in order to get the search warrants they needed.

        However, if they knew they had Netflix and Spotify accounts (which isn't hard if had search their bank records), this is more likely just plain-old-fashioned police work.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 13 Jul 2015 @ 11:30am

      Re:

      they did the right thing, got a warrant, and found a kidnapper.

      Sadly, the first two things in that statement are what makes this news.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      because it is so uncommon it needs to be lauded when it happens. Which is quite depressing imo that we need to make a point when police do their job right.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jul 2015 @ 10:42am

    Has techdirt had any warrants?

    Neither company at this point offer a Transparency Report detailing requests from governments and law enforcement agencies for user information. ... this would seem to be a good time for both to consider providing this information going forward.

    Just curious - Has Techdirt has had any police come looking for commenter/viewer ip addresses.

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

  • icon
    Max (profile), 13 Jul 2015 @ 2:33pm

    And the moral of the story is...

    ...aaaand that's why you keep your music on an SD card, kids, instead of the bloody "cloud".

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

  • identicon
    Walter, 14 Jul 2015 @ 4:57am

    Ever heard of PureVPN, dumbos?

    If only these dumbos were acquainted with the concept of VPNs, they would still be in Cabo and FBI would have been conducting raids in the wrong country. I use PureVPN to change my location many times during the day to protect my identity and use Netflix websites from different countries. I'm in no way proposing criminals to use PureVPN to hide their identity though. Oh no, I'm not doing that!

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

  • identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, 14 Jul 2015 @ 12:39pm

    If this pressure continues, it will be your privacy or your access, rather than a more balanced exchange

    Torrents dont have such requirements and are free. Just saying.

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

  • identicon
    Hilary DeVary, 14 Jul 2015 @ 1:12pm

    This story of the barr arrest in Mexico is innacurate.



    I was the Private investigator that located them and it wasn't through Spotify. Drew did get a warrant for Spotify but it came back to an IP in Mexico that couldn't be tracked as we couldn't get a warrant for Mexico. Second, I used my own tools to find them in Cabo, and I also found the mailbox, even getting a copy of Peters ID from the mailbox store for which he opened the box ( which I have) Once I located them in Cabo, I had my Investigator do round the clock surveillance on places they would frequent. That's is when we saw them, did covert surveillance, and found where they lived. I have an immigration contact and the had about 14 agents surround the compound where they were loving.



    Again, this story is not completely accurate. I located the Spotify and netflix accounts as they were utilizing them. Drew would then get the IP off the warrants, but they never developed to anything. Hopefully soon I can tell the complete story because I worked very hard on this case for 7 months.

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

    • identicon
      Jack, 15 Jul 2015 @ 6:18am

      Re: Good Job.

      I fail to see the problem. The peace officer got a warrant from a judge that helped locate a custodially abductor. All I can say is good job! This is being blown way out of proportion.

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 15 Jul 2015 @ 8:08am

    Good police work!

    This is good police work. I have no problem with this! It's the blanket data grabs that allow the wrong government entities to know what you're having for breakfast that bother me! The Edward Snowden revelations are what bother me! i'm a computer scientist, and I know what can be done with all that data!

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


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