Tech and the law: Social-media manhunt; warrantless police searches; laptop-decryption update

Developments in the world of technology and law enforcement:

• First, a contest. Wired writes about the Tag Challenge, which kicks off at the end of the month. The U.S. State Department is dangling a $5,000 bounty to those who can use Twitter and other social media to hunt down and be the first to submit photos of  fugitives — jewel thieves in five cities in the United States and Europe. The idea for the social-media manhunt came from a group of graduate students in six different countries, according to the Tag Challenge website. For those who might be narc-averse, the fugitives are fictional — in case you hadn’t already guessed. And the website stresses that no law-enforcement agency is affiliated with the project.

• On to the real world: An appeals court has reportedly ruled that police had the right to search suspects’ cell phones for their phone numbers without a warrant. Indiana police did so for the purpose of obtaining subpoenas for the suspects’ call histories.

Warrantless searches in the age of technological advances has been a hot topic. In January, the Supreme Court ruled that tracking suspects using GPS devices was unconstitutional if done without a warrant, although, as the Mercury News wrote at the time, the court’s narrow ruling leaves many questions and issues unanswered.

• Finally, a follow-up to another recent news item we mentioned on GMSV, concerning what could have been a constitutional showdown. Colorado federal authorities have reportedly figured out a way to log on to a mortgage-fraud suspect’s laptop, rendering moot a judge’s order that she decrypt her laptop. Last week, in a separate case related to child pornography, an appeals court ruled that forcing a suspect to decrypt a laptop is unconstitutional, infringing on the right against self-incrimination. In the mortgage-fraud case, the woman’s attorney reportedly suspects that her co-defendant and ex-husband might have provided the government with the password to unlock the laptop.


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  • If you’re going to have sensitive info on your computer that you might be forced to decrypt, then you might want to get an XOR tool to combine those files with “Mary had a little lamb” et al, then save the result so you can decrypt “Mary did some evil deed” to “Mary had a little lamb…”

  • Bryan

    Given that jewels have no intrinsic value other than that assigned to them by the egregiously wealthy ostentatious assholes who own them, should we really help anyone catch those who steal them?

    “Jewel thief” is a lovely romantic archetype, this hysteria over rocks strikes me as a game the 1% play with their insurance companies, and I’m going to limit my participation in the charade to sitting back and giggling while I watch.

    Besides, I really am quite actually insulted by the paltry bribe. They want me to be a stooge for a five grand? Shall I laugh, cry, and/or spit? Adjust the decimal by three places and we’ll talk.

    Until then… I fart in the US State Department’s general direction.