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Police Using Dogs To Sniff Out Computer Memory 415

Posted by samzenpus
from the smells-like-a-terabyte dept.
First time accepted submitter FriendlySolipsist points out a story about Rhode Island Police using a dog to find hidden hard drives. The recent arrival of golden Labrador Thoreau makes Rhode Island the second state in the nation to have a police dog trained to sniff out hard drives, thumb drives and other technological gadgets that could contain child pornography. Thoreau received 22 weeks of training in how to detect devices in exchange for food at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy. Given to the state police by the Connecticut State Police, the dog assisted in its first search warrant in June pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography hidden four layers deep in a tin box inside a metal cabinet. That discovery led the police to secure an arrest warrant, Yelle says. “If it has a memory card, he’ll sniff it out,” Detective Adam Houston, Thoreau’s handler, says.
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Police Using Dogs To Sniff Out Computer Memory

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  • Any Memory?? what judge will go on just that?

    hidden four layers deep why that for a USB stick? doing that will make them want to look at the data.

    Just shipping them unhidden is more likely to just pass though

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:13PM (#47397007)

      Any Memory?? what judge will go on just that?

      Uh, yeah. Most judges rubber-stamp search warrants.

      Also, does concealing a memory device now automatically imply child porn?

      The cops get bolder every year, and people just go along.

      Cop: "I asked him for his ID, and he went fishing in a pocket. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A GUN OR KNIFE, SO I SHOT HIM".

      • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:17PM (#47397033)

        Does bubble wrap count as concealing now?

        If so how can you safely ship stuff like HDD's with USPS, UPS, FEDEX with out damage?

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:50PM (#47397181)

          If so how can you safely ship stuff like HDD's with USPS, UPS, FEDEX with out damage?

          Include a few dried habanero peppers in the package.

      • by kesuki (321456) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:19PM (#47397047) Journal

        i guess if dogs can smell memory sneakernets into dictatorships to provide outside information is doomed. i wonder can they smell a blu-ray too? cause 25 GB is a lot of storage...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:29PM (#47397103)

        The dog is not being used to establish probable cause, it is being used to aid in the execution of a search warrant where probable cause has already been established.

        • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:32PM (#47397119) Journal

          >where probable cause has already been established.

          Or where a suitably incriminating memory stick has been prepared just in case there isn't one inside the metal box

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:09AM (#47397273)
            Yeah that's my real worry about all this child porn stuff - "everyone" turns their brains off and starts getting their pitchforks ready to lynch you.

            Guess how convenient this is if the powers that be want to get rid of inconvenient you...

            And for what? Even if some pervert watches child porn doesn't make him a rapist or molester any more than you wanking off to "normal porn"[1] makes you a rapist or molester. If you say he's supporting child porn, then you should follow the money and jail those responsible for creating it. If he's torrenting it, then using the **AA's logic, he's killing the child porn industry ;).

            [1] in some countries "normal porn" is illegal. Go figure.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by ArsenneLupin (766289)

              Yeah that's my real worry about all this child porn stuff - "everyone" turns their brains off and starts getting their pitchforks ready to lynch you.
              Guess how convenient this is if the powers that be want to get rid of inconvenient you...

              The NSA has a huge stash of child porn just for this purpose...

      • by SeaFox (739806) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:16AM (#47397477)

        Also, does concealing a memory device now automatically imply child porn?

        Where have you been the last ten years? Trying to conceal anything at all from a law enforcement officer implies you're up to something. Only criminals insist on privacy now, citizen!

      • Either child porn or you are part of a terrorist cell.

        Because you have something to hide, you are obviously guilty of something.

      • by meerling (1487879)
        It's already known, and has been for decades now, there are lazy irresponsible & incompetent judges that keep pre-signed blank warrants in their desk for the cops to grab without bugging them.
      • by hooiberg (1789158) on Monday July 07, 2014 @03:24AM (#47397777)
        Child pornography is the Digital Godwin. So if budget has to be made available, and ridicule from the thinking part of the world ensured, this is a valid argument.
      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Also, does concealing a memory device now automatically imply child porn?

        No it could be something really serious like copyright infringement

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday July 07, 2014 @03:53PM (#47402271)

        Also, does concealing a memory device now automatically imply child porn?

        This is a fine argument for universal use of full-disk encryption.

        And I sincerely hope that real child pornographers get it wrong.

        Even so, let's drop political correctness and tell it like it is: our culture embraced "innocent until proven guilty" and "freedom from unreasonable search and seizure" for very good reasons. While we can all agree that harming children is abhorrent, removing those rights and freedoms from society at large does far more harm, to more people, and is the greater evil.

    • by jonwil (467024)

      Per TFA they generally have evidence that someone connected to the house they want a search warrant on is connected with criminal activity. And asking for a search warrant for all the data storage devices present at the house seems perfectly valid to me.

    • by meerling (1487879) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:37AM (#47397533)
      Since the dog can't smell memory, it must have been trained to smell something about the electronic components. That's bound to trigger a LOT of false positives in the modern world.

      This might be a fun thing to do. Get a lot of old flash drives, sd cards, and the like, the old super cheap ones of course, and stick them everywhere. Under the carpet, taped to the bottom of the drawers, in the hem of the curtain, etc. After 30 or 40 of them, somebody is going to get sick of playing that game, and it might be the dog, If you're really mean, store a picture of a treasure map on each one, and maybe some lists of random hexadecimal numbers.

      It'll drive them nuts. To really get the point across when they ask, just tell them the truth, that it's a joke, there's absolutely nothing of value stored on them, and yes, you want them back and undamaged. :P
      • by UltraZelda64 (2309504) on Monday July 07, 2014 @02:32AM (#47397659)

        Since the dog can't smell memory, it must have been trained to smell something about the electronic components. That's bound to trigger a LOT of false positives in the modern world.

        Officer: "May I see your driver's license and registration?"
        Driver: "Yes, here it is."
        Officer: "I noticed that your middle interior brake light is out and a little bit back you swerved."
        Driver: "Yes, I know the light is out, I just haven't had the time and money to get it fixed. And I swerved because a saw a small rabbit hop toward the road on the other side of a tree."
        Police Dog: "Bark! Bark! Bark bark! Bark!"
        Officer: "Alright, so have you done any drugs?"
        Driver: "No."
        Officer: "Do you have any drugs in the car?"
        Driver: "No, I told you I don't do any drugs."
        Officer: "Well my dog smells something suspecious, so I have the probable cause required by law to search your car."
        *officer opens glove compartment; dog gets excited"
        Officer: [saying quietly under his breath:] "Shit, it's just a fuse box."
        Officer: "Looks [smells?] like you've got a burnt fuse there, buddy. You might want to get that fixed."
        Driver: "I know. It's been blown for about two weeks. My interior lighting doesn't work."
        Officer: [silently thinking to himself:] "I guess I'm going to have to find some other way to nab this guy or work on finding someone else to nail. I need to meet my quota for this month."

        For some reason, I *totally* imagine that or a similar situation occuring, and probably more than a few times in the future...

      • Also, put some encrypted files on each. From ROT13 to something serious. Make sure the encrypted content is creative commons so that you can't be accused of copyright violation.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:39AM (#47397537) Journal

      Any Memory?? what judge will go on just that? hidden four layers deep why that for a USB stick? doing that will make them want to look at the data. Just shipping them unhidden is more likely to just pass though

      No judge will go on that......in this case, the police had been following the guy compiling evidence for seven months before getting a warrant. The guy was abusing a 7 year old girl and taking pictures of her. They brought the dog in after the search warrant was obtained, because a lot of times child-molesters hide the pictures on small SD cards in ceiling tiles or something. At least read the article before getting outraged. Even if it's not as fun.

      • The article is written in a way that makes it sound like they might be talking about one case, but there are two separate cases. The case you referenced, where they compiled evidence for seven months, was in Warwick, RI. The case the person you responded to referenced, with the USB stick hidden in a tin in a metal cabinet, was in Connecticut.

        Chances are that the Connecticut case was similarly investigated before a warrant was issued and the USB stick found, but the article doesn't give any details on the

  • Sooo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:11PM (#47396987)

    Can he packet sniff?

  • Amazoing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by governorx (524152) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:11PM (#47396993)

    I had no idea the contents of a physical drive changed its smell!

    This is very intriguing!

    • Re:Amazoing (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:13PM (#47397001)

      It's true. As soon as my computer downloaded this, I could smell the bullshit.

      • Re:Amazoing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by amiga3D (567632) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:55PM (#47397197)

        I also smell the bullshit. I remember watching a USAF security specialist with a "drug" dog. He walked down the bay with the dog trotting beside him, stopped at a door and bounce a rubber ball off the door. The dog began to bark and scratch at the door. The CQ opened the door and they searched the lockers finding a bag of pot. Imagine that. That's when I realised that someone narced and the dog was for looks so no one would suspect.

        • Re:Amazoing (Score:5, Informative)

          by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday July 07, 2014 @02:35AM (#47397667)

          That's called 'parallel construction' - the practice of fakeing a source in order to conceal the real source. It's used to protect informants by allowing for plausable deniability, giving the appearance that the police stumbled upon a crime by other means or sheer luck.

          It's still controversial because it can also be used to aid the police in using illegally gathered evidence while concealing that fact from a court.

          • Lying to a court about evidence is controversial? You don't say?
          • Re:Amazoing (Score:4, Informative)

            by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday July 07, 2014 @08:00AM (#47398359)

            That's called 'parallel construction' - the practice of fakeing a source in order to conceal the real source. It's used to protect informants by allowing for plausable deniability, giving the appearance that the police stumbled upon a crime by other means or sheer luck.

            No, what GP described is NOT the potentially legal version of "parallel construction." Parallel construction, done properly, is supposed to involve the construction of a legitimate alternative chain of evidence, where the original chain of evidence came from a questionably legal information source (e.g. NSA wiretap, improper search) or a source that can't be exposed for some reason.

            The way this is supposed to work is that all the legally obtained evidence is given to a separate law enforcement person, who doesn't know the case or have the detailed evidence and who then investigates in a legal fashion. As long as there is no "fruit of the poisoned tree," the investigation can be legit. The recent controversy is often that in new cases, the NSA will convey an "anonymous tip" or something to law enforcement to search a particular place... but after that tip, the police are still expected to act legally.

            In GP's case, the officer presumably received a tip that that particular house had drugs. The dog was brought past to provide probable cause (in addition to the tip) for a search. However, in this case the dog didn't sense anything, so the officer chose to commit an overt illegal act and fabricate evidence for the probable cause.

            So, while "parallel construction" is on questionable legal ground in many cases, GP's description involves fabrication of evidence... which does not lead to parallel CONSTRUCTION, since no legitimate chain of evidence was legally constructed.

            • by StikyPad (445176)

              Actually, GP was correct, and you seem to be misinformed. The notion of parallel construction originated in protecting CIs, and has been used for that purpose for decades. Extending it to cover illegal NSA wiretaps was a more recent development.

    • you need to be on the jury.

      While child pornography is bad the lost of rights / junk science to by pass your rights is much worse

      • you need to be on the jury.

        Even if this story was about using the dog's response to establish probable cause for a search, any assessment of the validity of that probable cause is done during the preliminary stages of the trial, before the jury is called in. The jury is then merely instructed that the search was valid. It's incredibly rare that a jury is allowed to assess the validity of evidence gathering, or even told that the defence raised any issue at all.

    • by Warhawke (1312723)

      This is why I store all of my flash drives in a Milkbone box: hiding in plain sight.

    • by TarPitt (217247)

      A dog's sense of smell is amazing. I bet a dog could tell if a search warrant is valid or not by smell alone. Perhaps the ACLU should train some of those dogs, to find invalid search warrants and prevent violations of the 4th amendment.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      The summary is misleading. They can't smell the pornography, only the flash memory/hard drive. The idea is that if someone hides a memory device somewhere the dog can help them find it, regardless of what it on it.

      Even so it seems a bit unlikely. Being able to separate a solid state memory device from any other random plastic/silicon electronic device is a stretch.

  • Your Honor, this person of interest may have hard drives or thumb drives, and these types of storage devices are commonly used to store CHILD PORNOGRAPHY OHHHH GOD THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!! WHY WONT YOU PROTECT THE BABY JESUS??????"

    Warrant granted -- get those scumbags. And I wont cry if they die before seeing a jail cell!

  • Especially old SCSI drives. Peuw! Stink-o-rama! It's like really bad B.O.
  • by WWJohnBrowningDo (2792397) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @11:35PM (#47397137)

    Typical government bureaucracy, relying on outdated technology.

    Nearly 10 years ago, top minds in the private industry [wikipedia.org] already developed super dogs that not only detected DVDs but could also determine the legal status of said DVDs by smell alone.

    • by djupedal (584558)
      This is true....don't ask me how I know.
    • Interesting, but the link you provided claims no distinction was noted between real and counterfeit disc detection.
      • by retchdog (1319261)

        I think WWJBD's point is that the dogs are actually useless exactly because they can't make this distinction, and that it was all a bullshit PR exercise; the subtext is that this is similar.

    • by torsmo (1301691)
      From the article:

      . . . then-MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said . . . "the dogs are some of the greatest employees we have here at the MPAA"

      You know what, I totally believe that the guy was speaking the truth. I mean, the characteristics possessed by the average dog puts it fair and square above an MPAA employee.

  • ...on where said thumb (drive) was recently stuck.
  • by Warhawke (1312723) on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:03AM (#47397241)
    Let's get this out of the way. Search tactics using dogs is always going to be prone to abuse. However, dogs have been sniffing out electronics [psychologytoday.com] for years now. Additionally, and this should be obvious, the dog isn't sniffing out hard drives that contain child pornography, it's merely sniffing out all hard drives. In this case, the dog was deployed as the result of a search warrant that undoubtedly allowed for the seizure of all electronic devices within the home. Use in this manner is much less controversial than using the dog to find the drive, thus establishing probable cause to bypass a warrant entirely.
  • At first, I had a real good laugh when I read this. There's no way the dog can smell certain memory cards with certain content on it, anyone with half a decent brain and some knowledge in electronics knows this.

    But then it occurred to me, it's not the card/usb-stick the dogs are smelling, it's the fact that some human touched it, probably repeatedly from using the USB-memory (or harddrive) for a long time, this is bound to leave your human scent on them, and thus making it easy for the amazing dog nose to
    • by Aryden (1872756)
      If it is in your home, one would assume a great many things would smell like you, namely your clothes bed, couch, fridge, chairs, table, door handles, bathrooms, and any number of other things that would all register as false positives were that the case.
      • If it is in your home, one would assume a great many things would smell like you, namely your clothes bed, couch, fridge, chairs, table, door handles, bathrooms, and any number of other things that would all register as false positives were that the case.

        I agree with you on that, but it makes a lot of sense as the culprit would probably have used the drive quite a lot, especially during certain acts *no further descriptions needed*, I'd expect certain secretions to become transferred to the surface of that drive making it unusually easy for any dog to sniff out. You know how small micro-SD cards are, right? Imagine someone hiding it in-between the wafering of a cardboard box, or perhaps a crack in the wallpaper? Surely that must give off the odor of the co

        • If you read the report or the synopsis, it said the thumb drive was four layers deep inside a metal box which was inside a metal filing cabinet. Assuming there was anything else in the filing cabinet, the scent of the owner would be concentrated around all sorts of things inside.

          Using your *no further descriptions needed* scenario, the person would have touched many other things with the same scent: his keyboard, his mouse, his desk, the door of the filing cabinet, the tin box, possibly the key to the f
  • A) There is this little thing called "The Internet" that people use to send each other information. Why the hell would someone go to the risk of keeping a thumb drive that can be identified as in their possession and have their fingerprints, when they can just send an encrypted file?

    B) I doubt the dog can smell memory in particular, he can probably just sniff electronics. Everything nowdays has some kind of electronic component, I doubt this will be very useful.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      I suspect that mechanical hard disks stand out since they are lubricated with some kind of oil. But otherwise not.

      • Probably, but if the premise of the small flash drive for smuggling CP was implausible, a bulky HD is even more so.

    • by phmadore (1391487)
      I would assume it's a lot easier for the authorities to catch them when they distribute over a network, even Tor.
    • That will be the new reality. Enter the country without any electronic equipment. Buy from a 2nd hand computer/recycling shop. Use new storage in computer at one secure location via a trusted VPN and no driving around with your cheap laptop. Return computer without storage when done. Exit.
      The big risk was having your laptop like device cloned at the border. Now just having a computer is part of a civil forfeiture risk.
  • In my home I have way too many hard drives laying around from old computers - and a lot of other electronic parts. It will take quite a while for them to go through the stuff - provided that they can find useful controller cards for reading them.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As the drugs war winds down... another war on freedom starts.

  • I am not surprised that the reporter is a technical illiterate who cant tell memory from storage, but surely the submitter or the editor one could show half a brain cell working and correct it?

    All the devices mentioned are storage, not "memory".

    Anyway, police dogs are a scam. Like Clever Hans, they are more attuned to their trainers emotions than s/he is, and can baffle and impress the unwary with seemingly impossible tricks as a result. Granting a warrant based on a dog alerting is effectively the same thi
  • by PPH (736903) on Monday July 07, 2014 @12:56AM (#47397427)

    ... on the child porn. But it creates 'probable cause' to hold someone and go through the rest of their personal belongings, car, house, etc.

    • ... on the child porn. But it creates 'probable cause' to hold someone and go through the rest of their personal belongings, car, house, etc.

      And we have a winner! This is nothing more than a slightly more elaborate version of the plastic "magic wands" Iraqi security forces were (and probably still are) using to detect everything from explosives to drugs. The could be counting birds flying by or examining entrails: the point is to let them legally search (harass) citizens.

      • Yeah.......except that's not at all what it is. Read the article, the police had spent seven months compiling evidence on this guy, got a search warrant to search his house, and then used the dog as part of the search. Seriously, they actually are going after crime here. If you have a problem with that, something is wrong with you.
  • So now I can't even hide my one time pad? Which I keep for perfectly legitimate purposes.

    I'm going to start hiding beef jerky in random places in my house.

  • useless. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rogoshen1 (2922505) on Monday July 07, 2014 @01:30AM (#47397513)

    One step closer to 'thoughtcrime' ;(

    Side note, there's a shortage of dogs capable of doing real work, like search and rescue. why waste good talent on this shit? I can't think of a reason this should ever be an issue.

    Is the end game going to be that whenever going through customs all storage will be scanned and stored "just in case"? :(

  • I need one of these dogs to sniff my ram packages from eBay and let me know next time I get one that's going to fail within 6 months. Son of a bitch. You know I never suspected the ram, I thought it was the hard drives failing me.

    I think the cops probably need to do more old-school investigating and undercover work. I think that we need the death penalty for child molesters and life imprisonment for anyone caught in possession of or distributing child pornography. I think it'd be great if there were any t
    • The justice systems of most countries have little focus on rehabilitation. While the term justice might sound noble, to many people it is just a polite way of expressing a desire for collective vengence: there is a natural urge to see evildoers made to suffer, and giving them access to education and counciling is not suffering.

  • by MrKaos (858439)
    Sex Crime, Sex Crime.

    A small quantity of _DRUG_TYPE_ were also found.

  • by swb (14022) on Monday July 07, 2014 @07:39AM (#47398307)

    There was a Mythbusters where they tried to fool a drug dog. I only caught the tail end of it (no pun intended) and the only attempt I saw was the target item inside a suitcase with dirty diapers in a room full of suitcases. If I remember the wrap-up scene the dog always found the target.

    I'm curious what else they tried to trick the dogs with. The cynic in me believes the cops wouldn't have cooperated if they had actually come up with a technique that worked.

    I wonder if vacuum sealing works -- presuming of course you wash the exterior of the vacuum sealed container and possibly double-bagged it. I use a FoodSaver model for food items and since the sealed bag holds a vacuum, presumably there's no way for the odor to migrate out.

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