How is it that people can post videos of illegal acts onto YouTube and they can't be found?
August 5, 2009 8:40 PM   Subscribe

How is it that people can post videos of illegal acts onto YouTube and they can't be found? I remember watching a video where someone has a camera mounted on the front of their motorcycle and they thread through traffic at insane speeds. I always thought that there would be some electronic trail the cops could follow.

A more recent example includes one where hunters shoot some ducks with callous regard in a pond, and another involves a man who let his 7-year old drive the car at 70 kilometers per hour. In both cases, the police are showing stills from the videos on the news in the hopes that someone can ID them. But can't they just trace it back electronically? I would have thought that the cops' ability to track down the posters would have been better than this.
posted by Sully to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
But can't they just trace it back electronically? I would have thought that the cops' ability to track down the posters would have been better than this.

They could probably obtain an IP address. Matching that to a person is problematic for a number of reasons. At the very least, ID-ing someone on an IP address only seems like a classically "reasonable" doubt.

That said, for serious crimes, I suspect they'd go a bit further. I'm sure this depends upon jurisdiction, but I recall last year the tale of some kids from Melbourne who'd committed indecent assault, and uploaded the video. They got ID'd and done fairly quickly. I don't think traffic cops are going to go to all that effort to find someone breaking a speed limit.

Also (and probably most importantly), without a 3rd party ID, the police assertion that this bloke here is that bloke on the screen would probably seem pretty thin in a court (due to the aformentioned ropiness of mapping an IP to a person).
posted by pompomtom at 8:53 PM on August 5, 2009


Ghost Rider? Tracking them down electronically would require 'good old fashioned policework' -- interviewing witnesses, investigating evidence and obtaining warrants, following leads., etc. It sounds like the Canadian police in those cases weren't prepared to do this and would rather crowdsource it.
posted by acro at 8:55 PM on August 5, 2009


I'd think that posting a video of an illegal act is not the same as committing the act, in fact there is nothing necessarily illegal about it (all it demonstrates is that you possess the video). If there is an information trail it is somewhere in YouTube's servers and so could potentially involve two subpoenas - one to google to get any identifying information from the poster and probably another to the poster's ISP to get personally identifying information from that.
posted by nanojath at 8:57 PM on August 5, 2009


I don't think traffic cops are going to go to all that effort to find someone breaking a speed limit.

Someone from Ballarat recently lost his licence and had his car impounded after uploading video of him doing burnouts to Youtube. A mate was videoing it and the clip clearly showed his licence plate.

Video clips shared by social networking sites are becoming an increasingly common source of evidence in criminal cases, certainly here in Victoria. I'm involved in two cases at the moment in which participants in various illegal acts have shared videos of them committing said acts.

Moral of this story #1: If you make life easy for the police, they will make life hard for you.
Moral of this story #2: People are stupid.
posted by tim_in_oz at 9:26 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, there is an electronic trail. Yes, the police could subpoena the account information from YouTube. This would likely yield an email address and an IP address.

As pompomtom points out, an IP address is not a personal identifier, but it there is a very high chance that it would lead police directly to the correct suspect. The IP alone might be enough for reasonable cause to get a search warrant, but more evidence - like the criminal on tape clearly matching the IP address suspect - would be needed to build a solid case.

(Yes, the IP address could also be useless. But the kinds of people who know how to conceal their traffic's source by tunneling through proxies are not the kinds of people who post videos of duck massacres on YouTube)

But really, I'm guessing the police don't do this much because they have too few technical people who are busy with more important things.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:42 PM on August 5, 2009


I always wondered that about drug documentaries.
I guess the police don't care about illegal things not going on right in front of them..
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 10:13 PM on August 5, 2009


There was a recent case here (Canberra) where some character put a video showing some serious speeding on his Facebook (or something, might have been Youtube too) ... but he was ID'd and charged. Can't recall the outcome. From memory, the vid had enough info to link the poster to the action shown. Dumb!!

Therein lies the law enforcement issue - finding the evidence to link the offence to the offender. Posting the video is not the offence.
posted by GeeEmm at 11:38 PM on August 5, 2009


"But can't they just trace it back electronically? I would have thought that the cops' ability to track down the posters would have been better than this. "

You are making the assumption that the poster is the perpetrator. An IP address trail of a video that gets emailed around before posting isn't going to identify the criminal just the uploader and that assumes the logs still exist. If the uploader uses the library or a school or open access point even the logs won't identify the uploader.
posted by Mitheral at 12:09 AM on August 6, 2009


First there has to be clear evidence that the crime or misdemeanor happened in a certain location. Will cops in Chicago want to investigate the motorcycle weaving in and out of traffic in Boise? No. If police were investigating hunters shooting ducks in another country - shame on them. Sure justice is a noble cause but tax dollars funding police investigations should be spent locally. It would be criminal for police in one city to investigate crimes in another country.

And then there is the fact that a lot of "criminal" stuff found on Youtube is faked. People have access to tech that can easily create some realistic effects. Just because you are fooled by the video of the 7-y/o speeder doesn't mean that it was a real event.
posted by JJ86 at 5:44 AM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


As others have noted, there are serious problems with trying to use something like this as evidence. Previously.
posted by applemeat at 5:57 AM on August 6, 2009


I guess you could always claim that piss was digital.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:22 AM on August 6, 2009


Presumably, these folks upload their video via Tor. If there is no identifying information in the video, and you upload it anonymously, then you are probably not going to get caught. (If the governments have been able to de-anonymize Tor, they haven't used this to prosecute anyone.)
posted by jrockway at 6:36 AM on August 6, 2009


a robot made out of meat commented: I guess you could always claim that piss was digital.

I guess you could:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3unTkT3_6Q
posted by JJ86 at 7:31 AM on August 6, 2009


The uploaders might jump into their car, drive around until they find a wireless network without password, and then upload it using that network. See Wardriving.

It will then be an 90 year old grandmom that the electronic trail ends at.
posted by flif at 7:36 AM on August 6, 2009


In some countries, like Mexico, video doesn't work as evidence in most cases.
posted by edmz at 6:16 PM on August 6, 2009


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