In the past, most investigations included ‘neighbourhood inquires’ where neighbours were questioned regarding the subject’s activities and lifestyle.
We still do neighbourhood inquiries, but over the last three decades this has produced less and less information of value, to the point that we now consider this an extraordinarily expensive investigative process.
Neighbours rarely share derogatory information or observations about the subject, and fewer still, even know the subject as most urban neighbourhoods are too transient and social contact is minimal.
Today’s neighbourhood isn’t tied to geography, but rather by Internet connectivity. The advent of virtual media has created virtual neighbourhoods that the Investigator must be adept at navigating and interrogating.
This new neighbourhood may reveal inappropriate pictures, drug and alcohol abuse, bad-mouthing of employers, co-workers, clients, and organisations. It may reveal poor communication skills and much worse – much of which is found exclusively online.
Unfortunately, inexpert interrogation and navigation of this neighbourhood has caused issues.
The ubiquity of Internet search engines and a lack of training and guidelines may put the Investigator in contravention of some laws if the resulting information creates a record of personally identifying information that is subsequently mishandled. Possession of Internet search results may impose either declared or implied responsibilities regarding the handling of the data in some jurisdictions.
A casual and undisciplined approach to Internet and social media searching raises questions regarding the competence, handling, fairness, storage, and analysis of the data. The role of the Investigator doing the searching should be clear from the outset. The sources and methods employed should also be clear throughout the search process and its reporting.
The subjects of an investigation do not line-up to tell the Investigator all his or her screen names and their related email addresses.
The Investigator must find the screen names and related email addresses from what he already knows at the beginning of the Investigation to build an online profile of the subject.
The Investigator must also recognise that screen names are often used by more than one person or a screen name may be used maliciously.
As the old New Yorker cartoon said, “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog”.
Navigation & Interrogation
The unstructured nature of data available on the Internet, and its density, creates problems for the searcher.
Google may say it found three million hits, but it will only show one thousand. The results will change depending on which version of Google searched and whence it is searched.
When searching for information about a person or company, the Investigator shouldn’t get bogged-down by search engine hits, but rather go straight to databases that have the right category of data for his purposes. This may mean searching sources not indexed by the search engines.
Google isn’t a substitute for knowledge and experience.