Search Engine Analysis Vital In Criminal Investigations?

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Google searches (and those of other search engines) are becoming a more and more effective method of finding evidence in criminal investigations.  This has resulted in computer forensics analysis becoming an (almost) mainstay in nearly all criminal investigations.

An example of this is the case of young teenage sisters of 14 and 15, who are implemented in the attempted murder of their granddad with other family members, who were found to have “googled” search terms such as ‘how to kill someone’, ‘ten easy ways to kill someone with no trace’, ‘can you kill someone with a punch?’, ‘dangerous drugs for the elderly’, ‘delayed symptoms of concussion’, ‘if you hit someone across the back of the head with a brick will they die or just get a bruise?’, ‘poisonous salts’ and ‘easiest way to kill an old person.’

The trial of Casey Anthony is another example of this. Computer forensic analysis revealed search engine searches on a computer used by Casey Anthony for “how to make chloroform,” “neck breaking,” “self defense” in March 2008, with traces of chloroform found in Casey Anthony’s car boot. However, Anthony was acquitted of murder – so the combination of the online chloroform search and traces of chloroform were not enough on this occasion to persuade a jury.

A more successful example of search engines playing a role in “justice” was when Mark Jensen was charged with first-degree homicide in 2008 after his wife, Julie Jensen, died as a result of ethylene glycol (which is found in anti-freeze) being in her system. His computer had a search engine result for “ethylene glycol poisoning.” which led to his conviction.

Computer forensic analysis is able to uncover a computer’s website history — even when deleted — as well as the search terms used, deleted emails and attachments, images that have been removed, and all online chat and instant messaging activity on that computer. The hard drive of a suspect is a fantastic resource for police investigations and has led to the search engine searches often being a surprise solution for a wide range of cases.

The combination of search engines and computer forensics is already one of the most intriguing aspects of criminal investigations in the 21st century, and the continuing rise in popularity of computers, tablets, and mobile phones means that Google, Yahoo, and Bing’s role in locking up criminals is set to increase.

What do you think about this? Should search engine analysis be considered an absolutely necessary part of any criminal investigation given the prevalence of the technology?

About the Author

Andrew Parker is the head copywriter for computer forensics and mobile phone forensics expert Intaforensics.

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