Thursday, 6 January 2022

Google Maps and catching criminals

The BBC had an interesting article about a Mafia boss who was supposedly caught in Spain by being seen in a Google Maps photo.

This article raises a few questions about privacy, Google and law enforcement. As well as the power of computing available to the law enforcement and security services.

There are two possibilities for how the authorities captured the mafia boss:

  1. They managed to identify him from the Google Maps image as proposed by the article.
  2. They actually identified him via an informant but they are using the Google Maps idea to protect their source (a credible alternative that creates plausible deniability).
I have some questions about possibility 1 and some reasoning that I hope it correct and that you can follow.
  • Google censors faces and so law enforcement must have had access to the uncensored data - you cannot just say oh its an old guy wearing clothes that could be this mafia boss who escaped 10 years ago.
  • If that is true then are Google routinely handing over data that they collect to the authorities?
  • If they are then to which authorities?
  • Given the amount of data that Google are collecting worldwide for all of their mapping services how did they find this needle in a very large haystack?
  • Do they have massive storage and computing power available to fun face recognition on all of the Google Maps data to identify suspects?
  • Even if they have the power to run the search over all the data they will be limited on how many of these searches they can carry out.
  • Why was this specific criminal identified and targeted for a search?
  • If they were not targeted then they must have the computer resources to carry out a face recognition search from all of the outstanding criminal mugshots against all of the Google Maps data.
  • That is a whole scale of computing power beyond what we consider law enforcement of being capable of doing.
  • Those are resources only available to the security forces and still that is more than you would expect that they have.
  • If they are letting law enforcement use that resource then the actual power for search controlled by the security forces must be even better.
  • That means that they can know where EVERYONE is at any time and privacy is more than over.
All of this makes it more likely that possibility 2 is the reality. The security services are good but if they were as good as this article suggests then there would never have been a January the 6th attack on the Capitol and there would be no doubt that various politicians are Putin assets. It would be impossible for Russia to infiltrate anywhere.