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Search Terms as Witness for the Prosecution

According to prosecutors in Durham County, NC, a man on trial for murdering his wife Googled the terms "body decomposition," "rigor mortis," "neck" and "break," as well as, downloaded a topical map of a lake bed in the days before he dumped the her remains in the same body of water.

According to the article in eWeek.com:

Whether they should be allowed to or not, search terms can help prove a case.

[The defendant's] Google activity was introduced at trial to convince the jury of the timeline for [his] murderous activity. . .

It helped; the jury found [him] guilty of first-degree murder after just two hours of deliberation Tuesday.


The use of Internet search terms has privacy advocates concerned. Also from the article:

The thought of someone's brain blueprint in the hands of investigators is causing alarms, mainly because the federal courts are unclear on whether search terms are meant to be kept private, and therefore off-limits to an entity like the police.

Complicating matters is the need to balance privacy rights and allowing investigators to adapt their techniques to the new technologies that their suspects use.

"If search terms aren't part of the routine now for everybody in law enforcement, they soon will be," said Kevin Bankston, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which provides commentary on technology-related law.

"That raises questions about privacy and how far police can go. What you Google for defines you. Your search logs are the closest thing to a printout of your brain that we have."

Source: Robert Ambrogi's Law Sites