I have a PDI friend here in California that I share investigation techniques with on occassion and earlier this week we had a huge discussion on the ethical/legal implications of using Myspace.com, Blogger, and every other personal blog creator out there as an investigation tool.
I told him I had been having a lot of success recently using Myspace to collect background information on several key witnesses and even a victim on a few cases I had been assigned in the last 6 months. He said he did not find the sites useful or easy to use, he felt that it was infringing on the individual's privacy, and he felt it was leaning towards unethical using information culled from a personal (Adult or Juvenile's) website.
I told him he was an idiot.
Nahh, of course I didn't tell him that. I DID tell him that I didn't think he was doing his client's or attorney's any favors by not conducting a thorough background investigation. I think he would have preferred if I had called him an idiot. I know I would have, if the situation was reversed.
I realize that one of the main limitations on conducting a background investigation on a witness/victim is...time. If you work in a Public Defender's office, I can guarantee that you don't have enough of it BUT it is well worth the time when you get some positive hits on your subject.
I gave the Unthorough Investigator at little hands-on tutorial while he was sitting next to me at my computer. I like to practice my web backgrounds by using information from recent news stories (usually something juicy)...it's something I like to do at least once every couple of days just to see how fast I can get a hit on something.
Unthorough picked this artice from the San Jose Mercury News on Anne Ichord (32 years-old), a teacher from Woodland, California who is accused of shagging a student at Pioneer High School. Here is where the fun begins:
Obviously, we can only go on information from the article, so after reading it, and deciding on the specific search terms I was going to use, I went to Google and Myspace doing direct searches on Ichord/Sex then narrowing them down with Woodland/Pioneer:
Ichord is a coach and teacher at the school so her name was referenced several times in students Myspace sites and blogs, and newspaper stories prior to the accusations. Basically I was bookmarking individual myspace websites that referenced Pioneer High School and each site generally has a list of friends that you can use for additional searches later down the road.
I was still getting too many hits and not enough background info so I switched over to my new favorite tool: Icerocket.com. Icerocket is great in that you can do very specific searches without have to screw around with a lot of Boolean search terms, you can search directly on Myspace or Blogs (I did email them to ask what blogs were covered in their searches...all they would say is, "We try to cover everything." Yup, at least they responded to me email) and in all fairness their Blog and Myspace searches are friggin fantastic!
Anyhoot, here is what an Icerocket search using the terms Ichord and Sex revealed:
Ahaaaa! Now let's take it a step further and look at the blog it's referenced in, in it's entirety:
Now we have the possible name of the alleged victim (now 18 years-old and remember...this is NOT confirmed info!) that has never been named in any newspaper or press conference (I've blurred his name out as you can see, but you'll be able to get it yourselves if you do the same searches I did). After I went through some of the bookmarked webpages of students from the school I had saved earlier, I found that one of the pages belonged to the possible victim's sister and she placed at least one photograph of the victim (her brother) on her site.
Obviously none of this information has been confirmed but the great part of it all is that it gives you more than just one starting point and direction to go in your investigation. These blogs usually give you more than one potential friends/enemy to contact for the info you are looking for.
I realize that this all seems pretty simple...and it is, BUT you need to know where to look and what terms to use in order to get what you're looking for as quickly and accurately as possible.
There are a million places to give you more detailed info on how to conduct better online searches, so I'll just direct you to them if that's what you're looking for. In the next few days I'll follow up with another post on setting up Myspace accounts for use in your investigations.