Saturday, February 04, 2006

Snap, crackle and neck

According to a report by Angus Kidman in this month's Australian Personal Computer magazine, an American man has been convicted of murder after police obtained his Google search history. Previous searches included "snap," "neck," and "body decomposition," leaving prosecutors in little doubt as to where Robert Petrick's extracurricular interests lay.

Whilst the news is positive enough in that particular case - the evidence went some way towards Petrick's guilty conviction for murdering his wife in November 2005 - there's no doubt that it also raises more than a few worrying issues for those of us who, say, murder less but google plenty.

Personally, I've got nothing to hide from anybody on a legal level (aside from my small investment in whale trading and penchant for child porn, obviously) but that doesn't mean I want people poking through my search history (and, perhaps, even my Gmail advertisers' preferences?) just because they can.

According to the report, "it's not just murderers who are worried, [but] people who've googled for pirated software, porn, ways to minimise tax obligations, or information about terrorism".
And they mightn't be the only ones who need be concerned. When SMS, telephone call or fax keywords like "World Trade Center" and "monarchist" (?) already trigger the spooks into action through a government surveillance program known as Echelon, and with news recently circulating of police apprehending mobile phones from Sydney bus passengers in order to check for unsavoury text messages (a new power given to police in times of "lock down," like the recent Cronulla riots), there's cause for everyone to worry. Conditions that seem like something out of a scary science-fiction novel are becoming disturbingly commonplace.

In the meantime, I'd prefer to keep my private life, well, private. But I guess there's not much chance of that anymore.

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