Should we see Investigators online?

With a title like “Web of Death,” you couldn’t help but take the time — between two sittings in the Senate — to watch this documentary series.

The ancestors

The first episode is almost touching. We are shown people in their fifties or older, surfing a forum dedicated to unsolved crimes. One case in particular caught their attention and our forumers got it into their heads to solve this case. In this case, it was a Lotto winner, who had not given any sign of life for months.

Our investigators scoured the web, cross-referenced information and ended up solving the case. Obviously, in France and more generally in Europe, such a resolution would not be possible, for two reasons.

The first is that some of the information to which the investigators had access is absolutely not available online. We think in particular of criminal records. As French or Europeans, we are extremely surprised to see the number of research sites, which go through all the criminal records of a person. They also had access to personal financial information, which, in France, is impossible. These points relate to private life, which gives rise to intellectual acrobatics concerning the declarations of assets of deputies.

The other reason why this type of citizen survey would not be possible in France relates to the cultural phenomenon. In the United States, it is accepted that citizens can help law enforcement in solving crimes and misdemeanors. This has a lot to do with the history of the United States and the vigilantes. You can learn more about this subject in “The Criminal History of the United States”. This is much less the case in France, with the exception of computer crime and even in this case, it is better to take precautions.

Risks inherent in the exercise

Apart from the “simple” Disney + documentary, which is objectively of good quality, even if we can deplore the absence of dubbing, the subject questions. Is it desirable for people like you and me to throw themselves headlong into police investigations? We frequently make fun of our friends in the constabulary — more precisely of their unions, which have the subtlety of a tank — but investigating is a profession, with rules. It can’t really be improvised.

It may seem strange to call for a certain reserve on this subject on a news site devoted to computing. And yet, individuals can make mistakes, with serious consequences. You are never all-powerful with a keyboard. A holder of the forces of order has special prerogatives, allowing him to disentangle the true from the false. Of course, sometimes he is wrong.

But, in this case, he will have to answer for his shortcomings, as will his hierarchy and in a well-oiled democracy, the State will have to compensate the damage. At least, that’s how things should be. In fact, we know perfectly well, especially in France, that this is not always the case.

Whether you are a member of the police or a private investigator, this requires training and you comply with ethical rules. Nor can we resist the urge to add an unpleasant element: wanting to rely on ordinary citizens for the resolution of crimes and misdemeanors is only a way of masking budgetary cuts in the forces and the justice. Also, there is a special case that we need to address.

Collective responsibility

This is perhaps one of the things that was born at the same time as the democratization of computing: the hunt for pedophiles on the Web. Almost every detective series has an episode with a guy in his living room, who pretends to be 12-year-old Tiffany on forums to trap pedophiles. Some informal groups have specialized in hunting pedophiles, in particular by using OSINT techniques: geolocation, time stamping, identification of people, etc. It starts with a good intention. None the less unhealthy.

Even with the best intentions, one can make a mistake and if the murderers are vaguely rehabilitated, at least in the media, the person accused of pedophile remains marked for life. Not to mention the fact that watching child pornography for hours on end, even for investigative purposes, is not without consequences for the human psyche.

But, can we really blame Kévin and Karen, Sunday investigators? Recent “news” leads us to think that in terms of precautions, they have no lesson to receive from a certain press. For almost three weeks, we can not escape the case of the comedian who took the wheel – when he should not have. We understand that it can make a subject of 15 minutes. But, we are at the stage where we know the whole investigation minute by minute, to the point where it becomes perfectly indecent. We will not talk about the violation of the secrecy of the investigation or the ethics of certain lawyers.

The unpacking around this affair, which is only a banal news item as there are too many, was nauseating. The usual precautions, moderation, balance, nothing was respected and everyone seems to have thrown themselves into this story with the same greed as a pack of hyenas in front of a fresh corpse. Therefore, it is difficult to blame Internet users for a lack of reserve when the people who set themselves up as an example do not show it at all.

Web of Death is interesting to watch, but the reader should keep in mind that only achievements are shown. Failures, errors of judgment or procedures are not highlighted. Web of Death is available on Disney+.

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Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a freelance writer working on news website. He contributes to Our Blog and more. Wise also works in higher ed sustainability and previously in stream restoration. He loves running, trees and hanging out with her family.

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