Thursday, March 8, 2012

Private Parts

Part of my job is digging up dirt. The dirt you probably don’t even know is there. In places you can’t imagine I’d look. I have at my disposal databases that you’ve never heard of, private investigators, and dozens of classes in methods of ferreting out secrets. But mostly I use just the plain old ordinary internet. Google to be precise.

I’m very good at what I do. With private databases and just a few bits of information, I can view your credit history, property ownership records, military or school service, get behind PO boxes to your real address, see your credit card information, court records, your banking information, and get a list of people who live with you, your relatives, your neighbors, your past addresses. With public databases and perhaps a bit or two more information, I can usually find enough dirt, or at least enough to spin in my direction, that I don’t generally have to spend a dollar or employ an investigator.

And getting a subpoena takes 20 minutes and a filed lawsuit. With that, about the only thing I can’t get without a special license from the court is counseling records and attorney’s records. Although I have to say, even both of those aren’t too hard to get when you’re in the middle of a custody battle.

And the best part? The law hasn't kept up with the internet so there's also a better than not chance that I can convince a judge (who likely knows little about the internet) of anything.

Facebook (and those sites like it) is awesome for people like me.

And don’t get me even started on Firesheep.

I’m good at my job. Sometimes too good. I’ve used what I’ve found in custody disputes, property settlements, mortgage financing, and various other types of disputes. My job is to dig up enough dirt on someone to sway the odds to the my side. I view the information dispassionately and without malice. To me, it’s just information I can use to convince a judge to award custody to one parent or another; to award a family home to someone; or to convince a jury that the person may be less than truthful because of some “questionable behavior” (read this as kink, alt sex, guns, drugs or gambling, among others). I’m so good at my job that some nights I feel like complete and utter shit.

From a Child Custody site:

"Today there are private investigators that specialize in obtaining evidence of online perversions and Internet sex addictions. These investigators can take a persons email address and locate secret online personal ads. Membership to online swinger clubs, secret Myspace pages and memberships to online communities devoted to escort services and their clients. They can even locate porn site memberships a person has."

The one thing that I hear from people all the time is “I had no idea that was online” or “I’ve no idea how you found that” or “I thought I’d deleted it”. People who use the internet to conduct their lives seldom realize just how much they share. How much is kept. And how it could be used.

And I use it without your even knowing I’m there.

Putting warnings about “not using your profile information” means nothing. If it’s on the internet I can use it in all sorts of ways and for almost any purpose that I wish. [let’s not get into a copyright discussion here, that’s another whole topic and not relevant to this post]. I can, for instance view your profile, print it out and hand it to a judge in the middle of a custody dispute (been there, done that). If your soon to be ex-spouse has done any research of their own, and started an anonymous online chat with you (and gotten you to admit cheating, drug use, or other interests) I can use that. I can save a static page of any website, copy any picture, and spin anything I find in all sorts of ways that a judge and/or jury would find distasteful or make them question your veracity.

I especially love finding pictures of people doing things that judges, guardian ad litems, and juries think of as “disgusting”. Don’t think that hiding pictures behind a “friends only” list protects them either. Especially when you don’t really know those “friends”. And it’s amazing how often people use the same exact picture in more than one place. With tin-eye or even google- facial recognition is an amazing technology that is of great value to people who do what I do.

And I really love emails, text messages and chat logs. Sharing a computer or a phone with anyone and even deleting that shit, there’s a better than not chance that if push comes to shove, a forensic computer geek can still pull up enough for me to use. But people are lazy and seldom cover their tracks enough for me to even bother with that.

So what’s the point of this? Why am I telling you what I do, the kinds of things I can find?

Because I want you to know that if you put it on the internet, it is no longer is private. If you put something on the internet, someone will have the ability, the resources, or the motivation to find it. If you put it on the internet, in an email, or even behind locked sites, there’s always someone who knows more than you and can find it. I want you to know that when you send an email to someone- what happens after that is out of your control. It can be used against you. That what happens after you hit that send key is out of your control. And that it is no longer private.

I want you to know because right now, you may think that you don’t care about any of that. But someday, you might.

Before you send another email, post another picture or do anything else online- you may want to really stop and think about whether someday, people like me, will look for people like you.


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