Scene from"Hunted" Season 2 - Image: Channel 4
By Julie Clegg, President
Toddington International Inc.
I leapt out of the helicopter and sprinted to the waiting vehicle, cursing the traffic that was turning what should have been a 40 minute journey into almost an hour. Screeching into the gravel car park at the dockside, I could only watch helplessly as the targets sped away aboard a speedboat, the ringleader defiantly flipping us the bird as the 8m RHIB cut through the current and disappeared out of sight.
That moment was the culmination of weeks of diligent work, of 12-hour days in an entirely different time zone, working with unfamiliar people and systems. As I stood on the water’s edge that day, my colleague turned to me and said “well, four weeks of unhindered investigation in the virtual world and it’s the real world that failed us in the end…typical.”
Typical indeed, but in today’s complex investigative landscape, is there such a thing as a typical investigation or a typical outcome anymore?
Two decades ago when I embarked on my first police investigation, I spent a lot of time conducting face-to-face interviews, gathering physical evidence, and utilizing clunky databases to determine facts and build my case. There was a lot of door-knocking, hours sat at my desk making phone calls, and of course, endless paperwork. Back then, the internet was largely a commercial entity, not a ubiquitous communication tool, and social media existed only as a futuristic concept.
Within 10 years, everything changed.
The turn of the century brought with it Google, Facebook, Twitter, and most significantly, the mass adoption of the “smartphone,” changing the face of communication and investigation beyond recognition. Overnight we were hyperconnected with our friends and acquaintances, creating carefully constructed identities to share our lives online.
Fast forward to today and much of our data resides in the “cloud,” readily accessible from any internet connection, virtually anywhere on the planet. Landline phones and desktop computers are in steady decline, and our lives are an intricately interwoven web of continually updated information fed to us through one of the many devices we all routinely carry. Our once complete online persona is now scattered across various platforms based on the function and intended audience; we are consummately professional on LinkedIn, cool and current on Instagram, sexy and enticing on Tinder, while our Facebook posts narrate the best and worst moments of our daily lives.
“Every human has three lives: a public life, and private life and a secret life”
~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Long before the invention of the world wide web, Gabriel Garcia Marquez famously asserted that “every human has three lives: a public life, and private life and a secret life”; never has that been more true, and more possible, than it is today. Not only can we choose what we display and to whom, we are able to attach carefully edited images that portray only the most attractive versions of ourselves, the interesting places we visit, our popularity and social standing, and our exciting hobbies and adventures.
In short, we have become adept at impression management, sharing the right information, in the right place, at the right time, adding our voice to causes we believe in, communicating with hundreds of interconnected humans at the touch of a button, or hiding behind a veil of anonymity if we want to share information without revealing the origin. Our ability to reach a mass audience or a single person is unprecedented, and there is no time delay or geographical barrier to hinder us.
This ability to construct our public virtual lives in the way we choose also affords us the ability to conduct the best of of our “private” lives in public too, leaving only our secret lives hidden from scrutiny, either in the virtual or terrestrial world. No longer do we integrate technology into our lives, we integrate our lives into technology, and our behaviour as individuals and as a society is being fundamentally altered as a result.
The emerging discipline of cyber-psychology is described in The Cyber Effect as “the impact of emerging technologies on human behaviour.” In this book, Dr. Mary Aiken makes a compelling argument for the fact that technology is changing the way we behave as individuals, communities, and society as a whole, and how the minds and behaviour of future generations will be irreversibly altered by the internet and our increasing dependence on it.
As technology continues to evolve and we move into the era of the Internet of Things, the ways in which we manage the global movement and storage of data and money, secure or leak information, protect or damage reputations, and locate or hide communications will change, and with it, the way we think, work, socialize, communicate — and investigate.
The Law of Disruption (Unleashing the Killer App - Larry Downes)
In his 2009 book, The Laws of Disruption, Larry Downes builds upon concepts first introduced in the 1940’s and studied by technologists, philosophers, and analysts over the decades since, that the evolution of technology will widen the gap between law enforcement, legislation, the judicial system, business, finance, the political system, and society as a whole. Similar to the distinctions drawn by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Downes divides his work into four areas: digital life, public life, private life, and information life, and discusses in detail the opportunities and threats relating to digital disruption. This division of our lives, and of our very identities, is particularly pertinent to the distribution of information on the world wide web, and has significant implications for investigators using the internet as an investigation or research tool to locate and evaluate open source intelligence in pursuit of truth or justice.
To be an expert in internet investigations nowadays requires an advanced level of skill across a wide variety of disciplines, some of which require extensive training and experience. Internet investigators must be able to accurately profile their subjects to determine where and how they communicate online. Profiling may be psychological, behavioural, criminal, or geographic, and any of these genres can come into play during the collection, evaluation, or analysis phase of an online investigation. It is not enough to be comfortable with the landscape of the world wide web, online investigators must be able to locate information using the tools that are relevant to each platform. For example, content in the dark web cannot be located using the same techniques employed to locate geo-tagged data in social media posts, or information buried in a database within the deep web.
Along with the challenge of locating the data is knowing how to access and retrieve it securely and in a manner that will not reveal the identity of the investigator or their organization, or compromise the integrity of the investigation. These elements are arguably the most critical components in any web-based investigation and are the most often rushed or overlooked entirely due to the over-zealousness of the investigator, or their lack of awareness around issues of online privacy and security.
Finally, storing data in a manner that maintains it in its original format, provides evidential continuity, and minimizes the risk of penetration from an external actor is an essential component in the online investigative process, along with secure dissemination. All the investigative best practices in the world will not be enough to maintain the integrity of the investigation if the final report is emailed to the client in the clear.
Whether due to circumstances beyond your control or because of an error in your process, there is nothing more disheartening than watching weeks or months of hard work disappear, middle finger raised firmly in the air, figuratively or otherwise.
A former detective with the West Yorkshire Police in the United Kingdom, Julie brings two decades of investigative experience to her position as President of Toddington International Inc. Drawing on her extensive experience in both undercover and intelligence-led operations, Julie and her team provide proactive and reactive, strategic, operational, and investigative services to both public and private sector agencies worldwide. A licensed private investigator, Julie’s areas of expertise include internet investigations, financial and organized crime, social media and digital surveillance, cyber-psychology, and profiling. With extensive experience in the television and film industry, Julie delivers consulting and investigative services to the entertainment industry in the areas of threat assessment, stalking, trolling, reputation management, and digital surveillance.