Can Search History Put You In Prison?

We search and browse internet every day – we browse for info, we shop, we socialize, we bank. Additionally, we use ever-growing number of portable devices to do that. In fact, we do pretty much everything online. Just imagine how you’d have felt if someone somewhere just switched off the whole internet (don’t panic – it’s unlikely).

Internet connected devices have become so ubiquitous and transparent that we don’t even realise how many computers we interact with every day. The majority of us know that, every time we use the computer, we are being tracked in some shape or form, e.g. web browser cookies, mobile phone or credit card usage. The trick here is that now everything you search for online can be used against you in court.

Don’t believe me? Based on recent tragic event which took place in US, when a gunman started shooting in a crowded Arizona supermarket that left 6 dead and 14 injured, the judge has allowed Federal prosecutors to use alleged gunman’s search history as convicting evidence. Jared Loughner’s (alleged gunman) online search history indicated that he used search terms which can compromise his defence and help to convict him.

Yet another example of using search history as evidence is the court case of Rosario DiGorolamo. After 4 years, Rosario finally admitted to murdering his wife after his search history revealed he was ‘very keen’ on exploring his knowledge about “lethal karate blows to the back of the head” just before his wife was killed.

Although both cases above are happening in US, in the UK there have already been many examples of police arresting suspects who posted pictures of themselves with knives and other weapons in public places online. Adding to all this, Facebook and MySpace is constantly being screened for paedophiles, terrorists and criminals.

As Louie Helm from The Singularity Hub rightly points out:

While at first glance, it appears that any invasion of privacy here will only insure that Federal prosecutors are able to give a dangerous man the punishment he deserves, it also continues a trend of admitting more and more private information from suspects’ computers into court rooms and is a reminder of how little privacy exists online these days.

The simple truth is that more often than not online privacy is a myth. Although there always was and there always will be a difference in interpretation of the ‘privacy invasion’, there still isn’t a lot you can do about it right now and whoever wants to stay completely private online would need to go to great lengths in order to succeed.

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