Cops In Cyberspace: An Internet Primer for Law Enforcement
|By Russell C. “Doc” Davis, Ph.D.|
Director, Midwest Law Enforcement Consultants
Seems that everyone these days is talking about the Internet. Listen to some people and you get the idea that the Internet is a vast warehouse of almost limitless information free for the taking. Others would have you believe that the Internet is run by international pedophiles and smut peddlers lying hidden in the never-never world of cyberspace, and just waiting for the opportunity to shock and defile innocent young minds with their perverse wares.
The truth is that the Internet is neither – and both. True, the information available staggers the imagination. Equally true, there are pedophiles lurking out there to snag the unwary. But, beyond these, there is a whole lot more, much of it potentially extremely valuable to law enforcement officers and agencies. Let us then take a quick look at some of the stuff available on the “Net” which can aid law enforcement, but first, let’s take a quick look at the steps to take to gain access to the Internet.
Using the Internet requires a computer, a device to connect the computer to your phone line called a modem (any computer sold in the past five years or so probably came equipped with a modem), something called a “browser” which is a software program to help you access sources on the Internet, and a “provider”, a company or organization which provides you with a connection to the Internet. Let’s break this down. If you’re a “newbie” (someone who is new to the Internet) take heart. It’s really quite a simple process.
First, turn on your computer. Second, open the software application called your browser. Chances are, it will be Netscape, Internet Explorer or one of the commercial services such as America Online, CompuServe, or Prodigy. Your computer may have two or more of these. Whatever one you use, they all basically perform the same function: dial up your modem and connect you to the Internet.
Once connected to the Internet, you face a challenging task: finding the information you wanted/needed. Information is out there. Tons of it. Literally millions and millions of files of information. And the amount is growing faster than Kuduzu on a Southern Missouri rural telephone pole! The problem is how to find it. The Internet lacks organization. Sort of like a huge library with books just dumped here and there, where ever anyone wanted to put them, and then you come along to try and find a particular book or group of books about a particular topic. Virtually a hopeless task, you think. No, not really, if you have some heavy duty help. Lucky for you there is. We’ll get to that in a paragraph or two. There is also another problem we need to look at. To finally get to a particular file or place on the Internet, you need to know its “address” called a URL (computer-eze for address. See the sidebar for a complete listing of common Internet terms).
Now for the good news. There are some super “helpers” on the Internet called “search engines” whose task it is to help you locate information. Once upon a time there were no search engines, then there were several and nowadays there are hundreds of them. While they all are designed to help you find information, etc., unfortunately, not all search engines are equal. Some are better than others, depending on what you are looking for. Some, for example are general search tools, while others are very specialized. Thus, each search engine has its own strengths and weaknesses, etc. However, they all share a few things in common, such as a blank box or space in which you write the topic you are searching for. Beware: since each search engine looks for your topic in its own way, you should take a few minutes to read their help files which contain valuable information about how to best use their sources. Taking those few minutes will save you time and a whole lot of frustration. Believe it.
Here are the URLs (addresses) of some very good general search engines. The first one is actually a collection of over 250 search engines in a single location, so this address is a particularly valuable one:
Your browser will have a space for you to write this address. To access search.com (pronounced “search-dot-com”) you must type the address exactly as shown above. Once you are on this site, then read the help file for hints on using whatever particular search engine you have selected. Do this before you begin your search. That way, you’ll be able to use the special features of that particular search engine, and to save a lot of time and frustration. Regardless of which engine you choose, you begin your search the same way by typing in the topic, name, place, etc., you want to find and then clicking on the “search” icon. In a few seconds or so, the search engine will present you with a list of what it has found, and that could range from zero to several hundred thousand sources, depending upon the topic, etc. Each source listed will have a very brief description and an address line, usually printed in blue and underlined. Click on that line and it will take you directly to the source named. This is called linking and it is the very heart of finding things on the Internet. Virtually every site you go to will have these blue printed and underlined links which will connect you instantly to new sources of information. Some sites may have only one or two links, while others have a virtual library of hundreds, organized according to categories.
Here are the URLs of several other good search engines you may wish to explore.
A good way to compare search engines is to use the same topic and see how many sources each finds for you. You’ll be amazed at the differences. Type in “Sherlock Holmes” and engine “A” might give you 352 “hits” while engine “B” may have 23,549!!! The difference lies in how each engine organizes itself, what links it establishes and how often it updates its information. Like any other basic skill, using search engines well requires some practice, so spend the time.
Now, for some “cop sites” and sites of interest to law enforcement:
Once you have mastered the use of search engines (or at least have become somewhat comfortable with them), the next step is to begin to assemble your own list of favorite sites. As you begin to develop this list of favorites, you should “bookmark” them. Bookmarks are simply lists of favorite sites and contain URL’s so that you do not have to type in all that computer gobbly-gook each time you want to return. Check the help menu on your particular browser to find out how you can save (and organize!) your own personal set of bookmarks.
The following sites should be of special interest to law enforcement. Each listing contains a very brief description of what you could expect to find in each one. Just remember to look at any of them, you must type in their URL exactly as it appears below.
COPNet & police resource list. (lots of links)
Cecil Greek’s Criminal Justice Page. This has got to be the “Mother” of all cop sites with links to FBI, CIA, FLETC, DoJ, etc, - you name it and it’s probably linked to this site!!!!
Criminology resources on the Net.
The law enforcement homepage.
Terrorism & counter terrorism.
Yet another good counter-terrorism site.
Extensive!! Links to just about every loony hate group around.
Workplace violence links.
MILNET: Open source military information database.
An intelligence home page with lots of links.
Newsgroups for law enforcement:
Newsgroups provide their members with information and act as a forum to exchange ideas and information. There are literally thousands and thousands of newsgroups on the Internet. Here are some for law enforcement. Generally speaking, to become a member of a newsgroup, you simply send them an e-mail to subscribe. Once that is done, you will receive e-mail from that group until you decide to unsubscribe. Be warned: Some newsgroups are very active and circulate an awful lot of e-mail. Still, they can be very valuable so give them a try.
Since there are literally thousands of newsgroups covering virtually any topic you could imagine, locating newsgroups about a particular topic can be made very easy by using a specialized search engine called Deja News. Without a doubt, this is THE source for newsgroups. Their URL is:
Now some other URLs just for giggles:
Here are some sites you might find interesting. They are certainly worth a visit.
Think “they” don’t know a lot about you? This site contains information on how to surf the Net anonymously, and also to find out what “they” know about you.
La Paranoia Home Page (pretty self-explanatory)
Pretty Good Privacy, Inc. Home Page. Keeping your information secure is a challenge in this day and age of electronic snooping. This site contains some really serious stuff about file encryption, etc. You can also download a copy of their encryption program, PGP. There is an interesting history surrounding PGP. It is so good that, supposedly even the code-breaking computers of N.S.A. could not break it. So, the government tried to shut it down. The developer got his Irish up and uploaded the program onto the Internet where anyone could get a free copy. He ended up in court, charged with the violation of some obscure provision of an old law and, apparently, beat the case. So, if you or your agency is looking for an encryption program to safeguard all your computer files, take a look at PGP. Need to find someone? Guess what? The Internet is loaded with sites which will help you. The following are helpful in locating people. They might even help you to find your old high school chums or locate the telephone number of a long-lost relative. (Need we spell out in detail what a help these kinds of sites would be to law enforcement agencies trying to locate people?)
This is American Directory Assistance. Give them a name and a state and it will provide you with every person known by that name in that state. Also provides address(es) and telephone number(s).
Others which may also be helpful include:
Maps- Finding addresses, etc.
Need to find the precise location of a particular address or help you plan a trip from one city to another? Look no further. The sites in this section make these kinds of tasks a piece of cake. One of the most popular is Mapquest, located at:
Mapquest will provide you with precise maps of locations of particular addresses and will also prepare a detailed trip guide from one point to another, such as how to get from Birmingham, Alabama to Kemmerer, Wyoming, giving you precise driving directions, distances, times, and other essential information. No more calls to AAA!!
The following also provide similar information.
There you have it. A brief introduction to using the Internet for law enforcement purposes and a list of some interesting Internet sites. Have Fun.
About The Author
Russell C. “Doc” Davis, Ph.D. was the Director of Midwest Law Enforcement Consultants. He had been associated with law enforcement for over 35 years and had served in many capacities including a special deputy sheriff, a reserve command officer, and a trainer. Doc had been an Iowa Law Enforcement Academy-Certified instructor since 1986 and is one of the founders of the International Law Enforcement Training Group which presents workshops and seminars to law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and abroad. His articles have appeared in numerous police journals and he was also the author of several books including SWAT PLOTS, SWAT PLOTS II and The Hostage Negotiator’s Handbook.
So you want to speak Net-ese?
Like all things, the Internet has its own jargon, a special vocabulary of terms. Here are several of the most common Internet terms. Learn them and soon you will be able to speak Internet with the best of them.
bookmark Saving a URL (Internet address) in you web browser.
ftp File transfer protocol, the manner in which a file is transferred
either to you (downloaded) or from you (uploaded). Don’t worry
about this one. It’s done automatically these days by your web
Gopher/Veronica/ Search devices used to find things on the Internet. These have
Jughead/etc. been largely replaced by your web browser and search engines.
flame To flame someone is to send them a nasty message. Some Internet
users are inclined to send out flame e-mail, putting the bad-mouth
on someone or something. Yep, some Internet types are weird
Internet The international linking between computer/sites, like thousands
of interlaced spider webs. Originated by the U.S. government as
a method to exchange information in an emergency. Now
supported by universities and (increasingly) by private industries.
homepage A website on the Internet. Sort of like the first page + table of
contents of a book. Homepages may be for a person, a business
an industry or an organization. If you become very involved with
the Internet, you may even develop your own homepage.
link A connector from one website to another. Links are one of the
most valuable parts of the Internet.
modem A device which is built into your computer. The modem links
Your computer to the Internet via a regular telephone line.
newbie Someone new to the Internet, a rookie.
provider A service or company which provides you with access to the
Internet. There are thousands of providers, some big, some
small. There are also so-called commercial providers like
America Online, CompuServe and others. You need a provider
in order to be able to connect to the Internet.
search engine A search engine is used to find things on the Internet. Think of it
as a kind of reference librarian.
spam To spam someone is to fill his/her e-mail box with unsolicited
e-mail. Some advertisers are notorious for spamming people on
the Internet by sending out unsolicited e-mail advertisements by
the zillions. Getting a box full of this electronic equivalent of
junk mails can be annoying. Some states are now proposing
legislation to make spamming illegal. Lots of luck! Spammers
often use false return addresses and other dodges.
URL Universal Resource Locator. The “address” used for locating
sites on the Internet.
www World Wide Web, the most popular part of the Internet.
web browser A software program which helps you to navigate (find your way
around) the Internet. The most popular is Netscape, but
MicroSoft’s Internet explorer is gaining popularity. Commercial
Providers like American Online have a built-in web browser.
website A place on the Internet. Each website has its own address (URL).
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