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Archive for Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Internet lends help to investigators

February 20, 2007

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Chatter on Web sites. Comments flung in presumed anonymity through cyberspace. Blogs that blend threads of truth with blankets of opinion and speculation.

Oftentimes, public input on the news of crimes and courts is merely reaction, or a discourse for stories of wrongdoing in a community.

But occasionally an Internet commenter - such as the online tipster who may be a new witness in the Jason Rose murder and arson trial - can hand police and courtroom counsel valuable information they may have missed otherwise.

"No investigation can reach out to everybody," said Lawrence police Capt. Dan Affalter, who heads the police detective unit. "We gather information, wherever it is. If that's the only way I can get it, I'll take it."

As more people gather in cyberspace to swap information and ideas, police and other investigative agencies look to the Web for information not found elsewhere, or buried in files or phone books miles away.

"There's just a myriad of information out there," said Jerry Wolfskill, director of the Police Academy at Johnson County Community College.

"The Internet has opened up a million different things. It's a tremendous tool."

Tracking a witness

On Feb. 9, police noticed a comment on an LJWorld.com message board offering information about Rose, the man charged with murder and arson in connection with the October 2005 fire at the Boardwalk Apartments.

The information seemed reliable, so police investigated the claim, even as Rose's trial entered the fourth day of testimony.

Within hours, police had learned the identity of the commenter, and by Feb. 12, District Attorney Charles Branson had asked District Judge Jack Murphy to allow the witness.

The judge ruled that the new witness' testimony should be heard. But out of fairness to the defense, the judge called a mistrial and set a new trial date for April 30.

Branson said he was impressed by law enforcement efforts to track down the new witness - something that wouldn't have occurred without the Internet.

Affalter said he couldn't comment on the Rose case specifically, but said that for detectives, tips on crimes don't always happen the way he would prefer: face to face.

The county tips hot line can be a resource, Affalter said, but it has its limitations. For example, if someone calls with information that can't be verified or doesn't match up to the story so far, police often can't use it.

Plus, he said, if an anonymous tipster calls with very specific information no one else has, it's almost always unusable unless the person comes forward. The phone lines aren't monitored, and those lines don't use caller ID, he said.

But tips on Internet chatboards or blogs are different, Affalter said. Those types of communication - whether messages on a chat board or e-mail - can be traced back to users through the servers that companies and chat sites use to collect information.

"I guess a lot of simple users like me think that their Internet communications are private," he said. "But they're never totally private."

Already a tool

Although looking toward the Web for leads will become a larger part of police work as the Internet grows, it already plays a critical role in solving some crimes, said John Green, associate director at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.

For example, child predator investigations focus almost entirely on the Internet in many Kansas jurisdictions.

In Wichita, the Internet Crimes Against Children task force uses the Internet to learn the names and identities of people who hang out in chat rooms instead of on street corners.

"There's a big computer awareness out there," Green said. "For child crimes, it's already there."

Green said the fact that Lawrence police found a tipster for a major crime such as the Boardwalk Apartments fire online didn't surprise him. It's just good police work, he said.

And, he added, "We're just beginning."

Comments

jhoman 7 years, 10 months ago

So did LJWorld give up the IP address of this poster? If so, we know that privacy is not guaranteed, even if there is an (anonymous) tag next to your name. Quite a sad state of affairs I must say.

hockmano 7 years, 10 months ago

I don't think there is any such thing as being anonymous anywhere anymore.

domino 7 years, 10 months ago

If the police went to LJWorld and asked for the IP address of the poster, I would hope that they would not give that information out. The police would then get a subpoena requiring them to give the information and the LJWorld would have to release the information to the police. That would be the proper procedure in a case like this.

Joel 7 years, 10 months ago

Late Friday, the Journal-World received a subpoena from the Office of the Kansas State Fire Marshal requesting records and Internet protocol addresses for the poster. The records were to be directed to police Detective David Axman or Wally Roberts, an investigator with the Fire Marshal's office.

The newspaper complied with the subpoena Friday night. Under the LJWorld.com user agreement, the organization reserves the right to disclose identifying information of those posting comments in the event of legal action.

classclown 7 years, 10 months ago

So all the posters on here that admit or - brag even - to smoking dope and whine about it's their right can be tracked down through this site simply by law enforcment reading their posts here.

unite2revolt 7 years, 10 months ago

since it was subpeonaed, ljw would have been violating the law not to turn it over. Also the patriot act has a lot of laws in it about what ISPs are required to turn over to law enforcement.

clown- thanks to our city commission most of those posters have little to worry about.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 10 months ago

"So all the posters on here that admit or - brag even - to smoking dope and whine about it's their right can be tracked down through this site simply by law enforcment reading their posts here."

One of the reasons for the drug war is so that relatively innocuous behavior can be elevated to a criminal offense, making anyone committing these offenses vulnerable, just in case the powers that be need to get them off the streets or at least "discredit" them, for whatever reason.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm less concerned about the police using their subpoena power in a legitimate criminal investation than I am in Important Private People objecting to an anonymous posting on a forum such as this, and using their Important Connections to find out the identity of the poster in order to retaliate.

Aiko 7 years, 10 months ago

What if you have a firewall (true hardware firewall)? Can they still grab your IP?

linus 7 years, 10 months ago

If you all are so hell-bent worried about being "discovered" then stop posting! Good Lord!

I would want LJW or anyone else to give out any info possible, to Law Enforcement, if it would help get an arsonist, murderer, molester, sicko, psycho, dealer, addict, etc off of our streets.

What if it had been one of YOUR family members or friends that had died in a fire??? Overdosed??? Been raped??? Beaten??? Stabbed??? Would you be as concerned about privacy then?

If so, you need to change your lifestyle and fly right! You are clearly doing SOMETHING wrong!!!

Aiko 7 years, 10 months ago

I agree! I was just curious on the technical side of it.

Aiko 7 years, 10 months ago

Thanks Marion! What about Netgear VPN Firewall? I thought that may have the ablity to mask your IP. Does that sound correct to you? Thanks!

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