Posted by: nickgerlich | April 15, 2008

Leaving Fingerprints

In the old days of criminal investigations, about the only way one could prove another’s guilt was if the latter had blood on his hands. Unless the perpetrator failed basic Personal Hygiene 101, this was a fairly unreliable method of nabbing the bad guys. You almost had to be there before the guy could find a sink.

Things improved through the years, though, ranging from tried and true methods such as fingerprint dusting all the way to the ultra-modern DNA testing. Crime labs never had it so good, and our fascination with them is evidenced each week as we raptly sit before yet another line extension of CSI.

But while this all may be bloody well good for the crime lab, a second lab has emerged in criminal justice, and that is the tech lab. If they don’t leave damning physical evidence, maybe they left other fingerprints behind. Digital ones, that is.

CW33 TVTake for example the recent arrest of one Michael John Cruz in Grapevine TX. Thanks to his “loose fingers” in an online video game chat room, he has now been fingered in the hit-and-run of a cyclist last June. That cyclist is a good friend of ours, and wound up spending months of her life trying to recover from this young man’s senseless crime. (Click here to view the video. Instructions: Scroll down the CW33 page, and find the video thumbnail image that looks like the image to the left. The video was posted on 4/12.)

Just like Dan Rather’s unblinking camera, technology never fails to record everything. And store it for a long time.

We are thus living in a world in which our cell phone records, emails, text messages, chat room dialogs, and more can be subpoenaed and used against you. Trying to prove the infidelity of a spouse? Check those phone records, because they show everything.

Naive bad guys have been arrested because they left their cell phone on while on the lam, unknowingly leaving breadcrumbs along the way (our phones “talk” with every tower along the way). And pity the fool who steals a car with OnStar, because those guys know your location within about three feet.

But our technological fingerprints are ever more widespread than many realize. If you have a Google account, it tracks everything you have searched since you opened the account. Convenience? Perhaps, especially if you ever want to find something again, as you could search your searches so to speak. But a lawyer could just as easily prove you’ve been searching for particularly indicting information, such as how to make a bomb, how to kill without leaving a trace, etc.

Even Amazon has an elephantine memory, storing everything you have ever purchased at the online vendor. Everything. It’s like a Visa statement that never ends.

The point is we should all exercise caution with our techno gadgets. It’s not so much the fingerprints we leave behind on the keyboard that could hurt us. No, it’s what we do on that keyboard that could send us to divorce court or up the river.

Just ask Michael John Cruz.

Dr “Not That Type” Gerlich


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