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The FBI gets cyber-tricky…

By Brian | May 1, 2007 | Share on Facebook

OK, so there’s a nutcase out there writing threatening letters to the TV networks because they’re only televising cheerleaders who are not dressed provocatively:

The FBI had decided it was time to go public with its investigation into a series of bizarre, threatening letters — some laced with insecticide — that complain about the way television networks depict college cheerleaders.

[FBI Agent Fred Gutt] said investigators want the public’s attention and help in locating a person whose tirades appear unique: The author says sports broadcasters give more coverage to cheerleaders who show the least skin.
“It does seem the opposite of what you’d associate with exploitation,” Gutt said.

I guess nothing should surprise us at this point. But here’s what I found most interesting:

Investigators had hoped that the letter writer would surface during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, when television coverage peaks.

“There were things we were attempting to do to identify people,” Gutt said. Gutt didn’t elaborate, but one OSU source said that a fake cheerleading Web site was created to try to trap the letter-writer.

The source said the Web site address was put on the side of an Ohio State cheerleader’s megaphone, and the FBI got the television network to show the megaphone for 3 seconds. Those who visited the Web site got an error message, which was intentional. The source said the FBI was looking for hits from the northwestern United States. The site got about 1,000 total hits, the source said.

I think this is as fascinating as it is creative. A weirdo like this would seem almost guaranteed to visit such a site. First of all, he’s probably watching the games intently, especially when the cheerleaders are on camera. Second, the website seems like a perfect outlet for him to rage against the machine, so to speak.

But then my mind wanders back to the discussions we had during the whole wire-tapping, bank-record-tracking, Google-search-history-subpoenaing craze of 2006. About 1,000 people were investigated by the FBI without their knowledge and for doing something completely legal and totally harmless. One would assume that the FBI captured their IP addresses and endeavored to find out more about them: where they live, where they send/receive mail, what other sites they visited, etc. Is this warrantless wire tapping? An invasion of people’s privacy? Or is it a smart way to build your case against a potentially dangerous individual, in hopes of making your case for a warrant and/or arrest? Certainly the other 999 people weren’t harmed in any way by the investigation (unless of course they were caught doing something else illegal at the time). I find myself uttering the phrase that automatically loses this argument: “innocent people have nothing to hide…”

All in all, I’m glad the FBI does things like this. If I’m one of the people they’ve investigated for something over the past few years, that’s fine with me. As long as they don’t accuse me of a crime I didn’t commit, inconvenience me in some way, or damage my reputation by implying that their interest in me implies some guilt, I honestly don’t care (or even want to know, for that matter).

But I can see how others would. This line is grey and will remain grey until some bright lawyer out there figures out a way to codify it into a law people can agree on…

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