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Meet URL, the USB Porn-Sniffing Dog (cnn.com) 299

HughPickens.com writes: CNN reports that URL, the porn-sniffing dog, is the newest crime-fighting tool at the Weber County Sheriff's office with a nose that could help put away some of the country's most predatory and dangerous criminals. URL (pronounced Earl) sniffs out electronic storage media. Still just a pup, the 18-month-old K-9 is one of fewer than two dozen such dogs in the United States that hunt the unique chemical compounds emitted from flash drives, memory cards, cell phones, iPads and other similar devices. While dogs like URL can't tell detectives if a device has electronic evidence on it, they are able to find devices that humans might otherwise miss. Detective Cameron Hartman points to the high-profile case of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who was convicted on child pornography and other charges last year. A K-9 named Bear, who was trained by the same man who trained URL, led investigators to hidden thumb drives inside Fogle's home. The U.S. Attorney's office for Southern Indiana confirmed those devices contained evidence against Fogle. URL has found evidence relating to pornography during the execution of search warrants for the task force in several investigations of child sex crimes and child trafficking. "He actually found a USB that was in this jar that was closed, and the jar was in a box, and the box had stuff in it. The jar itself had stuff in it."
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Meet URL, the USB Porn-Sniffing Dog

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  • by John Smith ( 4340437 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:03AM (#52833763)
    I can never find my USB drives and SD cards. Say what you like about spinning disc, at least they were (are) easy to keep track of.
    • If the dog could find the tv remote and car keys he truly would be mans best friend. I would send my dog to that training camp.

      • by dublin ( 31215 )

        I misplace/lose all kinds of things around the house (especially tools: razor knives and tape measures seem to be especially furtive), but I think I've misplaced my keys maybe four or five times in my entire life - How in the world can you possibly lose your car keys?

        (I'm not even particularly organized here, but if I'm wearing anything at all over my skivvies, then the keys are in the right front pocket (phone goes in the left). If I'm not wearing pant/trousers/shorts, then the keys are either in the pock

        • I currently have one vehicle and a wife that also drives it so you never know where the keys will end up. If she didn't hang them back up they are most likely on the kitchen counter or the nightstand but not always.

  • Possible solution... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:09AM (#52833787)

    So here's a possible solution, and a market for recycled electronics.

    Start a business that grinds old (but relatively modern) electronics into a fine powder that can be dusted around anyplace you want to keep your stuff hidden from the pigs. The dog will be useless.

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:20AM (#52833847) Journal

      It wouldn't matter. Police dogs "alert" (sit down, or scratch, or something - anything the dog does can be an "alert") whenever and whenever the handler wants them too.

      In one test, the researchers told the cops they wanted to test the dogs. They set up eights cans and told the handlers "there are drugs in can #1 and can #4, let's see how the dogs do". The dogs consistently alerted on can #1 and can #4. The drugs were in #6 and #8 - the officer's expectations matter more than where the contraband actually is.

      See also:

      http://illinoistimes.com/artic... [illinoistimes.com]

      https://www.washingtonpost.com... [washingtonpost.com]

    • People dump alot of the old tube tv's all the time

    • Just get one of those blenders.
    • Encryption.

      Problem solved.
      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        It solves one problem but creates many more since case law isn't settled on if you have a right to be silent regarding encryption keys.

  • Is this a voodoo divining rod, or an actually-useful tool? It's hard to tell in the field, with so much electronic stuff everywhere. The smell of electronics would be on everything, and the dog wouldn't be able to sniff out anything useful. There's also a ton of stuff everywhere, so you'd easily find stuff without the dog. Then there's the false-positive rate: if the dog looks somewhere but finds nothing useful, that's probably a thing that's going to happen anyway; if the dog keeps looking random plac

    • Re:Does it work? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:24AM (#52833865)

      Is this a voodoo divining rod, or an actually-useful tool? It's hard to tell in the field, with so much electronic stuff everywhere.

      Probably not Voodoo. I doubt that a dog would ever be brought in to sniff for thumb drives in general, but there was already a case building against Fogle, and they just were looking for corroborating evidence. As for the smell of electronics, hell I can smell them, so I'm certain that a dog will do just fine.

      The smell of electronics would be on everything, and the dog wouldn't be able to sniff out anything useful.

      Depends on who and when you are looking for something. Using Fogle's example, they are going to take every piece of electronic storage in the house and go over it as part of the criminal investigation. A false positive means nothing, they'll just move on to the next thing the doggo alerts at. Outside of a criminal investigation, the doggo probably won't ever be used - at least for that. There's just too many of the devices sitting around.

      I fear you might not know just how accurate some critter's sense of smell is.

      • Re:Does it work? (Score:4, Informative)

        by waveclaw ( 43274 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @09:28AM (#52834229) Homepage Journal
        Does it work? No. But that depends on your definition of "work."

        But Drug dogs work perfectly for law enforcement: they provide whatever answer the police want and the gullible public believe the dogs are infallible.

        I fear you might not know just how accurate some critter's sense of smell is.

        You might just not know how dogs behave.

        If search dogs work then the dog should be fine to hunt these without the handler there at all. Just let the dog search on his or her own.

        Search and rescue dogs work this way just fine every day. You let them go and they hunt down people easily that you or I cannot see or hear or smell.

        But any person who raises and breeds and trains dogs professionally knows the first and only thing a well trained dog wants is to please the handler. That's the definition of well and trained for a dog. Drug sniffing dogs are very well trained.

        In the hands of their handler a dog is just a dowsing rod for the man with the leash. Combine that with objects that conveniently fit in an officer's pocket and the long history of corrupt government officials. You shouldn't have plausible evidence. You should have plausible deniability. Yes, dogs are great at finding skunks or burnt joints you might be able to smell yourself. Not so much for things in air-tight closed containers on in piles of stuff that smells exactly like it.

        But like you demonstrate, most people don't know how dogs behave. (Or how to spot magical thinking.)

        Keep the handler away from the dog. Let it search on its own. Otherwise he or she is just a furry four-legged lie detector.

        • Does it work? No. But that depends on your definition of "work."

          But Drug dogs work perfectly for law enforcement: they provide whatever answer the police want and the gullible public believe the dogs are infallible.

          You might just not know how dogs behave.

          Um huh, give me the citations of exactly how dogs olfactory organs operate. And thanks, I'm always happy to be edumacated by an expert. Here's the thing. and this is what will happen.

          Doggo merely makes things a little easier. When the police have a warrant, they can tear your house, car, and life apart, ad they can make you shit through filter paper for a week in case you swallowed the thing and you will comply. Doggo not specifically needed. The police just keep hunting. they aready had probable cause,

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            >Um huh, give me the citations of exactly how dogs olfactory organs operate. And thanks, I'm always happy to be edumacated by an expert. Here's the thing. and this is what will happen.

            http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-010-0373-2/fulltext.html

            Apparently, what a dog smells is very much determined by if the handler wants to find something there or not.

            Is that link scientific enough for you?

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      A voodoo divining rod is all you need for probable cause. Which is all you really need, if most of your department's income is from civil forfeiture.
  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:13AM (#52833807)

    as parallel construction.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:14AM (#52833819)

    1) Having a flash card is not a crime
    2) Having a flash card concealed is not a crime
    3) Having a flash card concealed that contains porn is not a crime
    4) Possession of child porn is a crime. ...."Whether it’s child porn, terrorism intelligence, narcotics or financial crimes information, "...

    You make a blind false *blanket* accusation, which you then use to justify a blanket fishing expedition, which you occasionally catch a criminal.
    Your dog cannot sniff out child porn, terrorist intelligence, data on narcotics, or data on financial crimes. You just haven't been stopped in your random searches yet, and you hope by marketing this miracle dog the courts won't take action.

    Either:

    a) You are a liar doing blanket searches and occasionally catching someone.
    b) You are hiding parallel construction (i.e. being given evidence illegally obtained by mass surveillance and then using a dog to conceal the source of that evidence to fool the courts).
    c) You pick a victim and set the dog on them, this has been done in drugs cases where the dog is used to sniff around cars and signalled to give a bark which is then used as excuse to justify a search you already decided you wanted to make.

    I recall this:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/federal-court-rules-search-laptop-border-unreasonable/

    A Korean man was stopped at the border, his laptop cloned and searched for evidence while he was detained for hours (missing his flight).. 'on a hunch'. They had a hunch he might have data on illegal sales of exports.... on a hunch.... and lo and behold they found some evidence on that hunch.

    The court was not fooled and suppressed the evidence. There was no way an expensive forensic data search was done on a hunch. It was likely parallel construction to conceal a previous illegal hack or search.

    • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:19AM (#52833841)

      "1) Having a flash card is not a crime
      2) Having a flash card concealed is not a crime"

      You wish. Though this was once true of cash, any bundle of money can now be presumed to be crime-related if the cops deem it profitable to make this declaration. Say goodbye to your Apple gear now under the same legal pretext.

      • by MitchDev ( 2526834 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:29AM (#52833903)

        As America (and let's be honest, other countries are turning total fascist as well) continues it's slide into making 1984 look like a freeman's paradise....

        Sad really

        • As America (and let's be honest, other countries are turning total fascist as well) continues it's slide into making 1984 look like a freeman's paradise....

          I think the real tragedy is that we're not even getting anything for being treated like criminals at all times, like stability or prosperity.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @10:02AM (#52834431)

            I don't think you can get stability and prosperity from a police state under any circumstances. You get told that whatever you have is stability and prosperity, provided by the suppression of enemies internal and external.

            The saying "Mussolini made the trains run on time" should be retired and replaced with "Mussolini made it dangerous to notice when the trains were late."

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          People who haven't read 1984, or were forced to read 1984 in high school therefore none of it stuck in their brains, probably shouldn't use it as a metaphor.

        • by camg188 ( 932324 )
          Don't be sad. The tide is turning. Laws are starting to get passed against forfeiture. We have the mechanisms in place to end these kind of practices.
          Please note that these laws are coming from state legislatures, not federal.
      • 1) . Though this was once true of cash, any bundle of money can now be presumed to be crime-related if the cops deem it profitable to make this declaration.

        Although I fundamentally believe it is wrong for a cop to think this way (without any other evidence to back it up), you can understand why cops could jump to the conclusion that wad of cash = crime.

        With the exception of older men, few people hold on to large amounts of currency in this day and age. 90% of people with a large wad of cash probably are criminals or engaging in criminal activity...

    • Not always. Jared Fogle was suspected because the head of his charitable foundation had already been found with child porn and probably turned on Jared. I don't remember the story and too lazy to look it up. Anyway, they already suspected him when they got the valid warrant, and the dog was used to find his SD cards where he kept his stash of kiddy porn. As far as I know Fogle never tried to claim that he was framed or anything like that.

    • You are hiding parallel construction (i.e. being given evidence illegally obtained by mass surveillance and then using a dog to conceal the source of that evidence to fool the courts).

      This. It would be quite easy for them to B&E, find the contraband via normal means, then return later and prompt the K9 to indicate toward the location of the evidence (which has been proven to happen in multiple studies).

      Maybe you don't deal drugs, distribute child porn, or steal identities. But do you want police fr

  • Awesome! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:30AM (#52833913)

    Now I can finally find out what device my porn is on and what contains my presentation! It's always so embarrassing to plug in that USB stick and hear my boss mutter "Say, didn't we see that last week... no wait, that was last night..."

    Unfortunately the subject line is as usual completely bogus and the dog simply finds electronic devices. Which is essentially useless. Yes, you might find the odd hidden USB device, but since it's not the device but its content that is "dangerous" when found, criminals will adapt and store incriminating evidence off site and encrypted.

    So what is that story, essentially? A heads-up for criminals?

  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:37AM (#52833953)
    ... a police officer decides that he does not like your face and "magically" find a hidden USB drive in your luggage in places where you would never think of putting one? Where I live no one trusts the police (for good reason), and if the possession of something small and easy to plant as a USB stick becomes a crime so will be even more reason for me to avoid the US as one avoids a city infested by ebola.

    P.S: No, I not a international terrorist or something like that (only the Dark Lord of Hell, but this is not a crime right?). But I'm not willing to test my chances facing a TSA gorilla and ruin my vacation because he had not liked my face.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      USB drives are illegal in your country?

      I imagine that, because of the false positive rates of using a dog for random searches, they already have cause to search you, your house or luggage for porn. So, bring in the dog. It's going to find a sh*t-load of innocent USB drives, SD cards and other assorted memory devices in my house. None of which contain contraband in my case. But it's going to find all (most?) of them. And then they'll check them and find out that all I have is vacation pictures and bootable

      • let's be more specific. The problem I'm seeing on the issue is that it leaves open the possibility that the mere possession of an USB stick would be reason to suspicion, and if the police wants you to be "suspect" would be simple to him put some crime evidence inside your pendrive or exchange it for another. In fact it does not have virtually nothing to do with the subject of the topic (flash drive sniffing dogs), which have to do is what the police will do with them.
  • Before deploying a "porn finding" dog, make sure to leave your collection in the police car.
    The last thing you'd want to happen is the dog detects your thumb drive, or your phone - which given it's proximity is much more likely.

    Or, worse: it detects your supervisor's phone / tablet / sd-card which then has to be taken in as evidence.

    Yes, I know this mutt only detects residual fumes off electronics - if it actually "detects" anything at all that it's not pointed at. But the possibility of it grassing u

    • by HBI ( 604924 )

      You'd think a porn sniffing dog might detect the faint scent of jizz on the usb sticks. Would probably start hitting on the cop's crotch and hand.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I was kind of wondering if that was part of the training protocol.

        Ideally they would have a collection of actual child porn storage devices minimally handled by third parties during evidence collection. It wouldn't surprise me at all if these had some unique scent profile identifiable to dogs, possibly due to either semen from masturbation or from arousal pheromones accumulated during repeat handling while sexually stimulated.

        A scent cocktail comprised of bodily fluids, pheromones and electronics might act

  • Ye olde "main stream" media and their headlines.
    I thought you were dead.

  • by Doug Otto ( 2821601 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @08:52AM (#52834025)
    Man's best friend, my ass. Hahahaha
  • dogs in the United States that hunt the unique chemical compounds emitted from flash drives, memory cards, cell phones, iPads and other similar devices.

    Now the police have no excuse to avoid helping out with lost/stolen cell phones. (Ha ha, just kidding, no profit in doing that).

  • It's like they don't know how to encrypt things.
  • I have terabytes of storage, and it's impossible to find anything. Can I borrow that dog for a day or so?

  • box, maybe? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pz ( 113803 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @10:09AM (#52834471) Journal

    "He actually found a USB that was in this jar that was closed, and the jar was in a box, and the box had stuff in it. The jar itself had stuff in it."

    Maybe, just maybe, he didn't smell the USB flash drive that was in a closed jar inside a box. Maybe, just maybe, he smelled the residue that the owner had left on the outside of the box when putting the flash drive away.

    It's very, very challenging to completely isolate something from ordor-based detection. You need to work with clean instruments and put the item in a clean container, operating ideally in a clean environment. Then, because you probably slightly contaminated the outside of the bag, you need to do it again, with a completely new set of clean instruments, in a new, clean environment. And then you probably need to do it again. And probably again.

    Otherwise, the owner might as well have just rubbed the flash drive on the outside of the box.

  • All my usb drives contain my "medical data", protected by HIPPA privacy regulations.

    Seriously, HIPPA regulations are probably the strongest data privacy regulations we have in the US. I'm surprised that they haven't been used by shady lawyers in cases like this that require large scale privacy intrusion with no probable cause.
  • by jpatters ( 883 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2016 @11:32AM (#52835089)

    I was skimming the summery and about halfway through I was thinking they were talking about some device that they plug your thumb drive into and it detects weather it contains porn or not, which is dubious enough; but then I suddenly realized that it was a literal dog named URL (in all caps) and suddenly I couldn't decide which of those two things is stupider.

    I'm sure the dog is happy, it doesn't know that its job is total bullshit. Ignorance truly is bliss.

  • Every room in my house is full of electronics. I have a box of proably 20 random USB flash drives in my office. None of them have child pornography or whatever on them, but most of them are encrypted. And I legitimately don't know most of the passwords, because who remembers the password they used for a scratch drive?

    The dog is either totally useless, or just an excuse to ransack your house and/or confiscate everything you own.

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