A police officer in New York City was convicted for a litany of crimes associated with posts and searches he’d made regarding the potential kidnap and murder of several women including his wife.
The details of this case are positively horrid. But there is an underlying issue that is often overlooked because of the details. The officer never committed any illegal act. The officer was convicted for things he said online.
Many observers are looking at this case as an example of the trend to consider online interaction as an indication of a person’s intent. Intent gives motive and allows law enforcement to step in.
This man was arrested for posts he had made on the forums of a fetish site. He had made 24 total posts, and of that 3 were deemed to warrant, well, a warrant. Looking at these facts alone, it can seem rather striking and even worrisome.
The mere statements were not enough for law enforcement to arrest the officer. They chose to do so after he searched for a recipe for chloroform and researching and downloading photos of his intended victims. These further steps justified the case and conviction.
When considering privacy and the impact on potential criminal liability, people overlook the formalities of law. Though the officer wrote about horrid things, those words alone were just enough to put him on the radar for the FBI.
The further web searches were the basis that rationalized the arrest. The people focused on the lack of a physical act.
What does this mean for the future of criminal investigation?
First, don’t expect what you do on the internet to be private. Though tracking may not be consistent or perfectly specialized, when used it is overwhelmingly effective. Second, convictions for conspiracy and planning may become more common. Regardless of the developments, your online interactions are important to consider. Please consider staying safe online.