Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane?..No…It”s The Internet!

Posted on June 22, 2010 in Sci-Tech

Prateek Waghre:

The internet is all pervasive. It has earned itself the notorious reputation of being the facilitator of Crime. Well, it’s not all bad. Over the last few years this fallen hero, backed by some inspirational efforts, is applying itself to fighting Real World Crime. This shift owes much of its success to social media (doesn’t everything these days).

Facebook was party to a Mafia War of a different kind in mid march when Pasquale ‘Scarface’ Manfredi was nabbed thanks to his Facebookophilia. A regular feature on Italy’s Most Wanted list, this mobster became a victim of his own addiction and using high tech surveillance equipment he was traced to an apartment near Crotone in Southern Italy. is also using Facebook as a vehicle to further its cause. Stop Crime, Get Cash is the by-line of this collaborative crime fighting (more reporting actually) website that lets people post crimes and view crime by Area. You can also sign up for Crime Alerts in your locality. It has even managed to piggyback a little e-commerce section that sells decals, Protection packs and apparel. With a call to get local police departments to sign up. This little website took a utopian view to crime fighting.

Durham County resident Mark Elander started, essentially a web based neighbourhood watch program. An effort to bring the community together to report suspicious activities and people. A vigilant way to prevent crime.

A number of Police Departments in the United States use their Facebook fan pages to expedite the process of disseminating information about Most Wanted Criminals. At this point, I should mention that I did take a look at the website of the PDs of Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai. While I was glad to see that there were seemingly active websites in place. They looked like they up only for the sake of checking an item off the list — Website, Check! They still need a bit of work before they can actually engage people. Mumbai’s site came to closest to doing this, and the jarring music score on Chennai’s site has made me put away my speakers. I was a little disappointed with Bangalore’s site considering that the Bangalore Traffic Police’s website is quite interesting and has a nifty HotSpot feature. Ofcourse, to see how accurate it really is we’ll have to wait for a mobile version of the website and that elusive 3G spectrum!

We have all watched hollywood cop movies with the famous stakeout. There is a new variant of this old beast on the internet — the social media stakeout. Crime busting sleuths rely on fake online profiles to network with members of various crime circles. Relying on these interactions and relationships has seen some success in places like Cincinnati and New York.

There is however a flip side to this tale. A certain big brother feeling tends to creep in. With Public as the default mode on Social Media — How comfortable should we be with the possibility of exposing everything we say to some sort of investigation.

There is an old adage — ‘Never say Bomb on a plane’. Paul Chambers, learned the hard way that you should never say it on Twitter either. An innocuous tweet probably meant to vent his frustration at a local airport -”Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” — landed him in all kinds of trouble. He got arrested, even had his laptop and iphone confiscated!..All because he dared to joke about a bomb? What’s next? Will we be sued every time we google “so and so torrents”?

The German police at one stage were contemplating using malware to monitor activities of potential cyber criminals. Questionable? Probably!

When it comes to fighting crime, surveillance will always be an integral part. But unlike old world surveillance where places are watched, its social media counterpart follows (pun intended) individuals. As criminals get smarter and more intrusive, there is perhaps a need for protective agencies to follow suit and keep a close eye on things. That being said — How close is too close!

If you know of any local instances of social media/Internet crime fighters or whistleblowers, do add them in the comments section.


The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. He is also a blogger @ WATBlog and