The Weber County Sheriff’s Office in Utah has a new weapon, purportedly to uncover illicit (child) pornography by sniffing out USB and other storage devices hidden in the lairs of the worst kind of criminals.
The dog, a labrador, is named URL, pronounced “Earl.” He underwent around five months of training, three hours a day, in preparation for his job. While he is unable to determine whether there is actually data on a given device, he can locate them in places that police might miss during a search. There are very few such dogs currently at work in the United States, and one of them was used to find evidence against Jared Fogle during the FBI’s raid of his home.
URL’s skills make him very valuable. Weber County paid over $10,000 to acquire him. He appears to have a mind of his own, with CNN reporting that he’s twice wound up in the dog pound. While URL is currently attached to the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, his handler, a Detective Hartman, believes his nose can be useful in several other types of investigations. “The counterterrorism stuff, the child exploitation kinds of crimes, the child porn crimes, child trafficking. There are so many different types of crimes that can be documented on electronic media storage.”
Reportedly, the dogs have even been able to sniff out storage devices contained in thick safes. URL himself is credited with finding a USB flash drive that was in a jar, in a box, surrounded by other items. It is unclear if traditional methods of thwarting sniff dogs will work with the training URL and his compatriots have received. Their trainer, a Todd Jordan, says he currently has two more dogs fully trained and ready to deploy.
As the world has become increasingly digital, so too have the methods of bad actors. Child pornography seems to have become more rampant with the digital age, and the ability to hide things off site in devices smaller than the size of a penny (such as a micro SD card) may have thwarted the apprehension of several child pornographers so far.
But it is important to note that these dogs could be used to uncover other things that police may not have been searching for in the first place. One can imagine them being used at airports and train stations, for instance, to discover devices containing, say, a Bitcoin wallet. The DEA and other agencies have had a rampant civil asset forfeiture campaign going on for years now, and the ability to seize bitcoins on top of everything else would seem to appeal to that urge. Like all progressions in law enforcement, one can easily imagine ways that they will go wrong, and have adverse effects on the people they purport to protect.
Moreover, if such dogs become employed in every day law enforcement, and police begin to uncover evidence unrelated to their original investigation, what will be done about it? Will everyday travelers begin to face federal piracy charges when their storage devices are searched?
Images from Shutterstock and CNN.