Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lawyers Using Google Searches as Evidence

The link in the title here points to an article on about a wireless hacker pleading guilty to launching denial-of-service attacks on his former employer, after his Google searches were produced as evidence. Here is a link to the original story on Cnet News. The criminal prosecution was in the 7th Circuit, and was appealed to the Court of Appeals. On October 27, 2006, the court issued its ruling allowing the use of evidence from the defendant's home computer.

Schuster's own Google searches were used against him.

Court documents say that Schuster ran a Google search over CWWIS' network using the following search terms: "how to broadcast interference over wifi 2.4 GHZ," "interference over wifi 2.4 Ghz," "wireless networks 2.4 interference," and "make device interfere wireless network."

Court documents are ambiguous and don't reveal how the FBI discovered his search terms. That could have happened in one of three ways: an analysis of his browser's history and cache; an Alpha employee monitoring the company's wireless connection; or a subpoena to Google from the police for search terms tied to his Internet address or cookie.

Google has confirmed that it can provide search terms if given an Internet address or Web cookie, but has steadfastly refused to say how often such requests arrive. (Microsoft, on the other hand, told us that it has never received such queries for MSN Search, and AOL says it could not provide the information if asked.)

This isn't the first time that Google search terms popped up in a criminal case: Last year, prosecutors in a North Carolina murder case introduced as evidence phrases culled from a seized hard drive. The defendant was found guilty in part because he searched for the words "neck," "snap," "break" and "hold" before his wife was killed.
(from C-Net article)

In an more technical article, a consultant for the FBI in the case explains more about the investigation and evidence that nailed the disgruntled former employee here.

I try to introduce my students to the growing importance of electronic breadcrumbs as evidence. I think they need to be aware of problems with confidentiality and potential evidence as well. The recent uses of the Internet Way Back Machine to prove trademark and copyright infringement is another interesting thing for lawyers to know about link
and here.

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