Crimebusters: Faster,higher-tech,smarter,Times of India,
Criminals had better watch out as investigative agencies use social networking to track them down
Saira Kurup | TNN
Mafia dons must be looking for a tech-upgrade after one of their brethren in Italy was foolish enough to get arrested this week,thanks to his love of social networking.Pasquale Manfredi,a feared mafia boss,used an internet key to log on to Facebook,helping police zero in on his location.
This is becoming a familiar story.In October,US federal agents managed to catch up with Maxi Sopo,a fugitive wanted for bank fraud,who had been sunning himself on Mexicos beaches.Sopo made a crucial error.He posted details of all the fun he was having on Facebook,little realizing the agents were watching.They tracked him down,thanks to information on Sopos Facebook friends list and some legwork by the Mexican authorities.
These are just two of a growing number of instances of law enforcement agencies entering popular social networking sites such as MySpace,LinkedIn,Facebook and Twitter.Investigators are even going undercover to communicate online with suspects.Whether it is keeping watch on the movements of pedophiles and drug lords,or the tax authorities estimating an artistes hidden income from his tweets about performances,social networking is helping to fight crime.
Indian police have noticed.Police cracked the case of IIT-Delhi student Pragati Tibberwals murder in a Shimla hotel room last month using information from the Facebook account of IIT-Roorkee suspect Gaurav Verma.The account linked Verma to the murdered girl.
Shimla SP R M Sharma says,We got the girls laptop,which had many photos.We asked the IIT-Roorkee registrar (an answersheet from that institute was found in the hotel room) to send a photo and samples of Vermas handwriting via email to crosscheck with his signature in the hotels reception book. Meanwhile,police looked through Facebook to identify the right Gaurav Verma,and then found the girl name on his friends list.
This has become fairly standard procedure in the West.Investigative agencies increasingly log on surreptitiously to exchange messages with suspects,identify the targets friends or browse postings and videos.They follow tweets and photos that indicate suspicious behaviour,such as people posing with guns.
Cyber forensic expert Santosh Raut recounts a case in Punjab that had a boy creating a fake Orkut profile of a female friend and posting her photograph and contact number online.After the girl started receiving calls,she filed a police complaint.The police set up a fake Orkut profile,made contact with the boy and got his location.Hes now in jail.
Cyber lawyer Karnika Seth says,Clues can be drawn from blogs and chatrooms.Incidents mentioned there can be tracked so that a chain of events can be analyzed and linked to suspects.If its a cognizable offence,the evidence can be presented in court.
So is India in tune with the immense potential of cyber investigation The technology is available but law enforcement agencies have less expertise than they should.Raut says,There are no specially appointed cyber experts in the police.They have only existing experts in,say,ballistics and physics,who receive some training in cyber security.
He says that Indian lawyers and judges are not sufficiently aware of the potential of cyber crime-fighting.Seth,who trained Delhi Police officers on cyber security,agrees.Not many police officials understand basic concepts like email. She believes that some interdisciplinary skills are required,such as a forensic science background,for a policeman to be an expert.
But Sharma says,We have regular training and workshops (on cyber investigation).Its part of the curriculum at the police training college.We are already tracking and recovering stolen mobiles online. In other words,no one should be surprised to see the local constable busy tweeting in the thana.
How to catch a criminal
In the US,people have been posting surveillance videos of burglaries on YouTube,leading to some arrests In Mexico,where gun battles can erupt on the streets without warning,people are turning to Twitter to find out safe areas British policeman Ed Rogerson regularly tweets with weather warnings and missing cats Facebook and Twitter are being used in the UK to trace missing persons by involving their online friends in the search