What Not to do When You Commit Your First (?) Crime

Careful What You Search For

When planning your crime, always remember to get rid of the evidence. If you’re driving off into the sunset and hear the sound of sirens behind you, you’d better hope you’ve destroyed any plans or searches related to your crime…sorry, your alleged crime. Getting rid of physical plans might be straightforward (burn ‘em), but your digital presence? That’s a different ballgame. If you’re planning on finding out how to do something illegal, don’t Google it from your own laptop, your search history is the first thing that’ll be looked at. Also delete anything that would embarrass you if it were brought up in court, like searches for cricket scores. Seriously, who watches cricket?

If you want to avoid ending up like the guy in the picture above (I feel like I recognise him…), I recently heard of something called Incognito that might be useful. Hitting Ctrl+Shift+n in Google Chrome apparently brings you to some kind of secret browser that doesn’t store your history or any information about what you’ve been browsing. I had never heard of or used this before until I noticed my friend using Incognito mode to discreetly (or so he thought) search for images of one of our classmates (creepy).

A number of people have been caught out by this, and have had their search history presented in court to help put them behind bars. In the last six months of 2015, Google received 12,523 criminal legal requests for user data in the U.S., and if you’re on of those whose data actually gets handed over to the Police, even Incognito won’t save you as Google servers apparently still save your searches. (Oh boy…they’ll know you like cricket)

We might not even realise how closely we’re being monitored on the web. A research scientist, Fei Yan, who worked in MIT’s Engineering Quantum Systems department got 15 months in prison for insider trading after searching the web for “how sec detect unusual trade” and “insider trading with international account”. He also viewed an article entitled “Want to Commit Insider Trading? Here’s How Not to Do It”. He probably should’ve been more careful with his searches, but surely an MIT scientist would be smart enough to use an encrypted browser to search for something that’s clearly illegal. If he did, given how much investigators knew about what he was searching, it means they must have been using some pretty advanced surveillance kit. I think that probably means deleting his history wouldn’t have done very much to help him.

So our final tip is: don’t search for anything illegal unless you really know you can’t be tracked. For that you’d need something like a VPN (Virtual Private Network) but if you don’t know what that is, just don’t search “How to steal a car” and then actually steal a car.

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