The Internets, Criminal Profiles, and The Law

August 22, 2006 at 11:28 pm (Blogs, News, US Government)

A 26-year old man was arrested for killing, assaulting, and planning to cannibalize a girl. What also stood out in the story was that fact that his blogging indicated such tendencies. According to the article on Yahoo! News (“Cannibalism suspect faces murder trial” by Sean Murphy of The Associated Press):

“My fantasies are just getting weirder and weirder. Dangerously weird,” Underwood wrote in September 2004. “If people knew the kinds of things I think about anymore, I’d probably be locked away. No probably about it, I know I would be.”

A self-fulfilling prophecy?

Which makes me wonder: how seriously should law enforcement officials (and, for that matter, the average Internet surfer) take outlandish statements made online? Behind every death threat is not a homocidal maniac who will hunt down his opponent. And yet this is the second time I can remember of a criminal blogging about his tendencies and desires prior to committing them. (I forgot what the other crime was.) Should law enforcement officials scour the Internet (especially blogs and even profiles and activity on services like MySpace) and compile profiles on posters or webmasters who trigger some sort of alarm or cause for concern? I know law enforcement officers do use the Internet to catch pedophiles and other criminal dreck, but should such operations seek out people who might fit a profile of someone who will commit a crime?

Some of this reminds me of the movie Minority Report. If we suspect someone might be or become a criminal, what steps, if any, can or ought we to put in place? What should the consequence of fitting such a profile be? Is it not true that all of us could fit some criminal profile or the other? Or am I making a big deal out of nothing?

Consider, also, A Certain Blogger who made comments perceived to be very threatening against another blogger’s child: people took action; people acted proactively; people acted very strongly. Such comments merited such action. Should this be the norm now? Should it be that someone who threatens another’s life online should be treated as if he/she threatened the other’s life in the real world? The Secret Service take the Internet very seriously (yo, Secret Service! I’m available for hire! Contact me, ‘k?), as do other goverment agencies with Three-Letter Acronyms. Is it time the rest of society followed suit?

This isn’t confusing, per se, to me: it simply makes me think: what we do and what we say online doesn’t remain online; consequences can manifest in the real world. This emphasizes for me the fact that the line between the virtual world and the real world is very, very thin. We need to act accordingly. And we may need to put into place policies and laws accordingly.

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1 Comment

  1. Major John said,

    Unfortunately, it takes an awful lot of effort to go out and look for signs of trouble before it happens. However, a good police force, State’s Attorney, etc., will add an on-line search to any investigation of someone. I imagine that such “admissions contrary to interest” will make good evidence for warrants, or during bail hearings, prosecutions and the like.

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