Questionable Online Investigations: Missteps Outside the Classroom

Last week we discussed the problems that can occur when an uninformed college educator exposes criminal justice students to online undercover investigations without fully understanding the legal nuances of those operations. This generated a lot of feedback on links to the blog article. We did not mean to imply that these missteps only occur in the academic setting. Unfortunately, they happen whenever staff are not properly trained and are then directed to complete online investigations.

We are aware of law enforcement personal doing the same thing that criminal justice students were directed to do, ie, pulling images from the Internet for use in an online undercover profile. In some cases, law enforcement felt it was appropriate as long as they bought the “model’s” picture. This is an ill-advised practice because it exposes the real person to danger as well as the officer and their agency to civil liability if something goes wrong. Additionally, it can give away the profile as being a “fake,” defeating the purpose for its creation. Again, the real person might be identified. It may be true the model sold their picture but that does not mean they wanted it used for conducting undercover online investigations.

Missteps are not only being committed by law enforcement. We cite in our book several cases where attorneys either directly or through advice participated in legally questionable online undercover activities. In one case a prosecuting attorney impersonated a defendant’s friend online to obtain proof that a witness was lying during a criminal trial. In another an attorney gave the go ahead for an investigator to take over a minor friend’s social networking profile, to obtain access to the minor’s restricted pages in order to get evidence for a civil suit. None of these examples ended well for the attorneys involved.

We devoted Chapters 9, 10, and 11 to covering various aspects to initiating, conducting, maintaining, and managing undercover online investigations. But don’t take our word for how good our book is conducting Internet investigations. Take a look at the following comments from respected law enforcement professionals:

Larry D. Johnson, Current CEO at Castleworth Global LLC, Former Chief Security Officer at Genworth Financial and Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Investigative Division, USSS, Retired, noted:

“This book offers the most comprehensive, and understandable account of cybercrime currently available to all different skill levels of investigators. It is suitable for novices and instructors, across the full spectrum of digital investigations and will appeal to both advanced and new criminal investigators. It will no doubt become a must have text for any law enforcement or corporate investigator’s investigative library.”

Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster (Ret.) Los Angeles Police Department, author, and host of American Heroes Radio, observed:

“Another strength to this book is that is very easy to read and in my opinion it needs read not only by the guys who are going to be doing these investigations but I think supervisors and managers out there need to take a look. … It is written for many levels within an organization.” (The entire show is here American Heroes Radio)

Neal Ysart, Director First August Ltd, Information and Corporate Risk Services writes:

“At last….. Informed, pragmatic guidance from two highly experienced professionals who have actually spent time on the front line, not just the classroom. This book is relevant for practitioners working in both law enforcement and within business – every aspiring cyber investigator should have a copy.”

Jim Deal, United States Secret Service (Ret.) and original Supervisor of the San Francisco USSS Electronic Crimes Task Force notes:

“Cyber-crime, internet fraud, online predators…we think they’re being addressed until we become the victims. Today’s law enforcement is ill-prepared to address against national security, let alone against our law-abiding citizens. Todd Shipley and Art Bowker are able to communicate what law enforcement responders need to know before they get the call – the information in this book must become a mandatory reference for law enforcement agencies everywhere.”

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2 thoughts on “Questionable Online Investigations: Missteps Outside the Classroom

    • Also, in response to students using photographs from the internet…..the ICAC’s Operational and Investigative Standards manual clearly states that only images or videos of individuals 18 yrs of age or older are to be used, and the photograph/vido must be of someone employed by a law enforcement agency. Anything other than what the rules state is a violation of federal code and grounds for revoking funding and worse.

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