Police Dog Sniffs for Hard Drives

This weird story describes a "porn dog" that is trained to find hidden hard drives. It's used in child porn investigations.

I suppose it's reasonable that computer disks have a particular chemical smell, but I wonder what it is.

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): More info.

Posted on December 24, 2015 at 8:18 AM • 61 Comments

Comments

Who?December 24, 2015 8:46 AM

I suppose it's reasonable that computer disks have a particular chemical smell, but I wonder what it is.

I understand dogs sniff the lubricant layer that reduces friction and wear. Guess it will not work on SSD.

RonDecember 24, 2015 8:56 AM

the dog that searched Jared's house reportedly found thumb drives. There are dogs trained to smell paper money too. As well as cadaver and drug dogs.

Rob KDecember 24, 2015 9:06 AM

Call me cynical, but I think what it may actually be is that when they want to search something but they have no probable cause, they bring in a dog to "signal" and give them all the legal cover they need to go searching.

DomDecember 24, 2015 9:17 AM

From the video, the smell is apparently an adhesive often used of the manufacturing of the storage devices.

pdarejDecember 24, 2015 9:19 AM

Police dogs are a joke and only meant to be used to get a reason for the police to search you whether you are are carrying anything illegal or not.... it's a bit like lie detectors.

WaelDecember 24, 2015 9:27 AM

Brody is expected to join the K-9 department in January after undergoing training at an estimated cost of $12,000.

Better than Angel funds. Come up with any ridiculous idea, and you'll get instant series A funding.

I suppose it's reasonable that computer disks have a particular chemical smell, but I wonder what it is.

It smells fishy :)

J HopDecember 24, 2015 9:44 AM

It's not a ruse. Probable cause for a search warrant is established before private property is entered (unless the owner invites them in). And yes, they are capable of reliably indicating on almost any unique odor.

InfoSecSherpaDecember 24, 2015 10:02 AM

Not that this matters to the purpose of the story, but that clearly looks like a black Lab to me - not a Chocolate Lab as the story reports. They couldn't even get that detail correct.

sklutchDecember 24, 2015 10:38 AM

(sarcasm engaged)

I suspect they smell like fear/shame/excitement...

and maybe lotion.

(sarcasm disengaged)

I've always wondered about the specificity of the "sniff" training that dogs get versus the innate willingness to please their handler and reading of said handler's body language to signal when it would best serve the handler.

AnuraDecember 24, 2015 10:46 AM

@Rob K

Call me cynical, but I think what it may actually be is that when they want to search something but they have no probable cause, they bring in a dog to "signal" and give them all the legal cover they need to go searching.

Since when is having a hard drive probable cause?

DanielDecember 24, 2015 10:58 AM

It's not a ruse. Probable cause for a search warrant is established before private property is entered (unless the owner invites them in). And yes, they are capable of reliably indicating on almost any unique odor.

It is a factual ruse although not a legal ruse. This has been litigated to death, up to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS doesn't want to take this one away from the police because OMG drugs. But no one who has seriously looked at the evidence thinks that these dogs can reliably perform.

One of the main problems with "probable cause" is that courts have interpreted that phrase in such a way that it bears no resemblance to the ordinary every day usage of "probable". It just means (flaps hands around rapidly) that something or the other, other something, word salad, macaronis and cheese. Hey, look over there! A shiney.

ianfDecember 24, 2015 11:11 AM


Advice to budding Montgomery County, Texas pornographers:

1. buy 30 or so used/ decommissioned (previous generation/ lower than current capacity) hard drives of various makes at a Computer Club swap meets or garage sales (they can be gotten for a buck apiece, 5 at most if the drive <5 years old).

2. zero their contents, or, better still, fill with randomly generated garbage and/or multiple copies of the U.S. Bill of Rights or equivalent

3. make a record of their serial ##, make, capacity, date of latest write, and deposit that list with a notary publicus or an attorney

4. hide the hard drives around your abode, the harder the better; wait for the Choco Lab

5. when the Man comes and the dog sniffs them all out, have a photo taken with you in handcuffs in front of a pile of "child porn disk drives." Have your lawyer declare yourself innocent and a victim of "doggy-style" police entrapment in the media.

6. Watch the computer forensic budget of the Montgomery County, Texas PD shoot through the roof, have a friend write a letter to the editor of the local rag about it, WHY ARE POLICE WASTING OUR $TAX DOLLAR$?

7. When the police "discover something" that they want to charge you with, have the attorney disclose the list in #3, watch the fireworks.

8. Wait for, perhaps even run yourself in the new elections for County Sheriff on a "Chasing Real Cooks, Not Hard Drive Ghosts" ticket?

ShacharDecember 24, 2015 11:42 AM

I suppose it's reasonable that computer disks have a particular chemical smell, but I wonder what it is.

They smell like chicken, of course.

Shachar

AndrewDecember 24, 2015 12:34 PM

Pretty sure this is illegal

There is court precedence in the USA that bars police dogs from being trained to smell plastic bags

How is that different from detecting hard drives, a perfectly normal and not regulated object for someone to have in their home?

bDecember 24, 2015 1:05 PM

Uh, apparently no one considered that the dog could be used after the police have a valid warrant? I mean the story clearly states a dog like this was used in the Jared Fogle investigation - anyone who followed that story knows the government had a ton of evidence prior to raiding his house. As in, a judge to signed off on a search warrant for his computers and digital storage and then they executed the search warrant using a dog to find his hidden stash of CP. There is 0.0% illegal about that. The dog did not provide probable cause - that's ridiculous because of course everyone has memory sticks and hard drives just like everyone has paper money. But once the police have a valid search warrant (because you're a pedophile or drug dealer) they're allowed to search your house for CP and illegal cash using dogs. How is that controversial in any way? There is definitely controversy over the use of drug sniffing dogs in things like traffic stops, but until we see judges signing off on warrants because "dog detected odor of hard drive" this is hardly controversial or shocking. Seems like a solid tool for law enforcement.

Josh BDecember 24, 2015 1:19 PM

Man, most of you guys are idiots. This has as much to do with using dogs to obtain probable cause for a search as corpse-sniffing dogs do; in any conceivable use of a drive-sniffing dog the investigators will already have a warrant.

Bong-Smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained ZombieDecember 24, 2015 1:31 PM

@Josh B,

Why the f**k would they use a freakin' dog if they had a warrant? That's a naïve way to look at it! The dog is more likely an avenue for parallel construction.

Man, most of you guys are idiots.

Let me give you a small piece of advice (before the sh*t storm hits you): It's better to keep silent and let people think you're an idiot than open your insulting mouth and remove any doubt

Gilberto ValleDecember 24, 2015 1:47 PM

Lots of dumb-cop personas (really, one obsessive one) here to harp on warrants, which are as crooked as every other part of the fake US justice system. If you want to know how crooked warrants are, just pay attention to the whining when the criminal defendants are cops. Fact is, a ___-sniffing dog is a pet that has one trick: Fido, alert! Somebody should train them to smell criminal pigs.

MiddleONoWhere texasDecember 24, 2015 1:48 PM

This is basically another case of myths and junk science being passed off as real forensics. Several examples are out there, including this one on dog scent lineups.
http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2010/09/dog-scent-lineups-discredited-at-tx.html

This all goes back to the case of Clever Hans.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans

These dogs respond to subtle, invisible cues from their handler and/or the suspect. Otherwise in an upscale home they would be alerting to the storage devices embedded in cell phones, new TVs, smart thermostats, universal remotes, cameras, and on and on.

Some things, like common explosives and some drugs, do have distinct and uncommon odors that dogs can smell and people can't. Many things have smells that are extremely common, especially any electronic device such as thumb drives or hard drives (chemically pretty close to anything with a motor).

There is no science here, only legal theater.

albertDecember 24, 2015 2:15 PM

Hard drives are hermetically sealed, except for a tiny filter which allows the air inside to equalize its pressure with the outside air. The sealed portion contains the disks and head assemblies, but not the drive motor and electronics. You can't make the sealed portion leakproof because of the difficulty of making the motor shaft seals leakproof. In the drives I've seen, the bearing is the seal.

While there's no doubt that dogs have extremely sensitive olfactory systems, I doubt they are smelling the disks themselves. As for thumb drives, ask yourself if flash memory chips have a unique odor. I submit that the dogs are detecting one of the myriad odors associated with circuit board manufacture.

What is the dog actually smelling? Likely not the disks. Thumb drives are packaged in a variety of plastics, so it's probably not the case. Could it be scents acquired during manufacturing? How about the owner's scent? It's almost impossible to do controlled testing of olfactory phenomena because everything has an odor.

I smell a rat...
. .. . .. _ _ _ ....

ArchieDecember 24, 2015 2:15 PM

Excuse me while I round up every piece of junk hard drive I can find, mount a Truecrypt volume (with a different and very forgettable pass phrase) on each one, then squirrel them away in every nook and cranny of my home. If I'm ever raided, it will give them something to do.

DanielDecember 24, 2015 2:24 PM

in any conceivable use of a drive-sniffing dog the investigators will already have a warrant.

I feel so warm and fuzzy right now, it takes away all the bitter winter cold.

WaelDecember 24, 2015 2:27 PM

@Archie,

Excuse me while I round up every piece of junk hard drive I can find, mount a Truecrypt volume...

Excellent choice! Make sure you don't use Cyptocat because I have a feeling these dogs are Cryptodogs that were specifically trained to sniff this sort of encryption. Don't underestimate what they can train dogs and Dolphins to do ;)

bDecember 24, 2015 4:41 PM

@Bong-Smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained Zombie "Why the f**k would they use a freakin' dog if they had a warrant"? Uh, convenience and accuracy? You do realize criminals hide things (drives, money, drugs) and so using a dog as x-ray vision makes total sense? I mean did you read the article where it says they used a dog like this in the Jared Fogle investigation to find his digital media, because he HID IT! Smart, those criminals.
Anyway your argument is in fact ridiculous - if a judge would approve a warrant because a hard drive sniffing dog shows there is a computer why not just say there is a computer in that location? Surely ISP records could show there is traffic, so why does a dog woofing "yes, there is a drive inside the house" matter? And last I checked search warrants are public record and trial lawyers love using the fourth amendment. Where is the EFF or EPIC or even Orin Kerr discussing all of the cases where a fourth amendment search occurred because a dog detected a computer? Oh wait, they don't exist. There isn't a judge in the county who would approve a search warrant based solely on the presence of a hard drive or memory stick. Seriously, the fourth amendment is real and so please show me the case where the judge and appellate courts approved a warrant based on "affiant states there is a computer hard drive inside the house. And that's it, your honor. Nothing more, just a computer." Doesn't exist. As opposed to, say, "we have all these voicemail messages discussing child pr0n, let's look for a computer." At which point the woofing dog certainly doesn't matter!

Bong-Smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained ZombieDecember 24, 2015 5:13 PM

@b,

Anyway your argument is in fact ridiculous...

Read what I wrote in responce to this claim by Josh B. If you still think my argument is rediculous, then get back to me, and I'll spank you.

No Such AgencyDecember 24, 2015 8:09 PM

What's the problem? It appears they're using the dogs to help find evidence that may be concealed?

Is it that the finding of a storage device is too general?

Suppose there is no warrant, but a dog signals a drive, forming "probable cause" for posession of a hard disk. Does this probable cause alone permit a search of the contents of that disk, or is a warrant required first?

HiTechHiTouchDecember 24, 2015 11:15 PM

@a different lars

Parallel construction is a method of converting inadmissible evidence into admissible evidence. A prosecutor constructs a legally acceptable path of discovery to the evidence which is parallel to the (illegal) path first used to discover it. The first path is then hidden from the court and defense.

An alternate reason for parallel construction is to hide the original source of information, for example a spy who's identity must be kept secret.

Generally, some "serendipitous" discovery starts the parallel path.

For example, police break into a house without a warrant and discover drugs, which can't be admitted in court because of the lack of a warrant and the illegal action of breaking and entering. They then disconnect the telephone wire outside the house so a (pre-briefed) telephone repair person will be invited into the house. While searching for a broken wire, the drugs are "discovered" and the police informed. The police then get a warrant based on the repair person's tip-off and re-conduct the search to discover the drugs in a legal manner.

bDecember 25, 2015 12:54 AM

Yes yes yes this nonsensical parallel construction - that works with drugs but it doesn't work with "dog who can sniff out hard drives." That's because the dog CANNOT sniff out CP or wikileaks or secret NSA documents! So there is NO parallel construction possible with this stupid dog - a telephone repair guy who sees bags of heroin can tell the cops "gee, I saw drugs, now there is real probably cause to get a fourth amendment search warrant." And it can be a ruse, after the cops know the drugs are there. But this dog? It can't tell CP from a blank memory stick and CANNOT be the reason a search warrant is granted. Possession of a hard disk, solid state drive or memory stick is NOT probable cause in any way shape or form. This is very different from a dog who smells drugs - that's a clear search warrant. Please, show me the search warrants issued because "suspect possessed a computer". They don't exist - there is always more.
Anyway, to be "parallel construction" the dog has to somehow be involved in the approval of the search warrant. And last I checked "OMFG the suspect has a hard drive" is not a valid reason to issue a search warrant. So, I don't buy the argument in any way shape or form. It's on its face ridiculous.

Bong-Smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained ZombieDecember 25, 2015 2:24 AM

The dogs need not be advertised for "storage media" sniffing. Use of the dogs isn't limited to house searches. Some of these dogs could be used to sniff passengers in an airport security line.

Suppose it was known through unadvertised means that a person downloaded a few files, and it was detected through means that must remain hidden (ability to read TOR communications, source and destination. Or say through a honey pot that needs to remain operational) that the files were stored on a couple of DVDs. It was also known that the person is traveling to some city with the DVDs for a gathering party (captured communications and "metadata".)

Now one of these dogs will be waiting for that person in the airport or train/bus station to sniff for "drugs" or "other devices". When the dog barks and no drugs are found, they will have a reason to check the media (because the person acted too defensive and suspicious.)

The second story is what will be presented to the judge. No information about the possibly "illegal" monitoring needs to be revealed to the judge and jury. The honeypot will remain in service, etc...

This is an example of one utilization for parallel construction.

anonymousDecember 25, 2015 4:29 AM

Most pedos keep their CP encrypted if its stored on a hidden external so this is pointless really. Oh and keep in mind its only 5 years for refusing to unencrypt and 10 if they find CP/gov secrets.

Clive RobinsonDecember 25, 2015 6:14 AM

@ abonymous,

Oh and keep in mind its only 5 years for refusing to unencrypt and 10 if they find CP/gov secrets.

The way the "refusing to unencrypt" legislation works in some jurisdictions is not quite how you think it works.

Firstly in the US there is the unlimited contempt of court time to serve untill you get your trial... Oh and if I remember "contempt time" does not count as "time served".

In other places having served time does not stop the authorities finding a new reason to ask again, when you've finished your first and subsequent sentences...

One of the things the UK's David Cameron is looking to do is to get out from under the Human Rights obligation because it serves as a check on politicaly inspired abuse. That is currently the court of last appeal is the European Court of Human Rights, which for some reason has a habit of finding against UK Ministerial decisions...

His Home Office Ministerial side sick is Therase May MP, and she is a great believer in "Justice being seen to be done" rather than actually done. Part of her reasoning I suspect is to curry favour with the political party Old Guard. Which is a matter of urgency for the old bat, as David Cameron has let slip, he's calling it Quits as Prime Minister, and it's likely to be her last chance at party leadership / Prime Minister. This currying appears to have driven her well off the norm of society, as her update to the Regulation of Investagatory Powers Act (RIPA) whilst not the original "Snoopers Charter" is actually worse in many respects. In essence it threatens everybody in the worlds privacy irresprctive of what the legislation in the jurisdiction they are in says. This is the same sort of legislation that Putin put in place authorising Russian action in the likes of all forms of espionage / black bag / wet work etc...

The proposal is so broad and the exceptions for "authorities" likewise, that it is guaranteed no matter what Parliment is assured by Therase May the legislation if passed will herald an age of rights stripping and abuse that history has never seen before.

Refusing to decrypt?December 25, 2015 7:12 AM

As several years in the slammer applies for refusing to decrypt drives in various jurisdictions, how does the Court determine genuine cases where person X actually can't decrypt a drive due to lost / forgotten passphrases?

Surely this is a test case in waiting? Is there anybody incarcerated currently long-term because of this probable scenario?

Yes, I know "the dog ate my homework" defence is pretty lame, but probably everyone on this forum can attest to losing data on various media over the years because they forgot that 'unforgettable' phrase they memorised with some trick or other.

L. W. SmileyDecember 25, 2015 8:43 AM

Would it be possible to create an encryption format that applies the decryption algorithm with the wrong "secret" key is the wrong passphrase is used? So that when asked to decrypt, if the exact passphrase is misremembered, then the decryption output looks like you had only encrypted random characters in the first place?

L. W. SmileyDecember 25, 2015 8:45 AM

OK with public key that would be a problem, since the incorrect secret key would not factor the public key.

Mark Fuller, 13th CesspoolDecember 25, 2015 9:41 AM

Passwords are protected as contents of mind by the 5th Amendment, and by your binding freedom from coerced confession under ICCPR Article 14(g) (though judges are paid to lie about 14(g) and pretend it doesn't exist.)

Pigs admit it when they're talking among themselves: "Given individuals’ rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, defendants cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves (i.e., provide the password to law enforcement to unlock the device)." Not of course when they're lying to you about your rights.

The prosecutorial bureaucracy is utterly dependent on coerced confessions so they use parallel construction and testilying pigs to disguise their fishing expeditions. The key is not to say anything about the seizure. Pigs are trained and indoctrinated to falsify any utterance into, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, you can't find my classified!"

So once again, the key is, right off the bat, "I won't be discussing this without a lawyer present."

MrCDecember 25, 2015 9:50 AM

@Refusing to decrypt?

Speaking about the US, because that's what I know:

First, refusing to decrypt is usually within your Fifth Amendment rights. So, no slammer for you. There is one major exception, though: If the prosecutor can convince the judge (and the judges on the appellate panel) that he already has sufficient other evidence to prove the various "testimonial" statements that you would implicitly make through the act of decrypting ((a) these files exist, (b) you have possession/control of these files, (c) these files are authentic), then you can be compelled to decrypt. A good example of the exception in action would be if you were wiretapped (pursuant to a valid warrant) and recorded saying that you keep the books for your criminal enterprise in the truecrypt volume on your laptop.

Now, what if you were ordered to decrypt (and appealed that order and lost on appeal), refused to do so, and got tossed in jail for civil contempt in order to coerce you into compliance? Well:

If it's a US federal court demanding that you decrypt, 28 USC $ 1826 specifies an 18-month maximum for civil contempt in this kind of situation. After that, you would likely be tried, convicted, and sentenced for criminal contempt -- which would involve a fixed-length sentence determined at trial, just like any other crime, regardless of whether you subsequently give in and decrypt. (Civil contempt is intended to coerce you into following the Court's order; criminal contempt is intended to punish you for refusing.)

If it's a US state court, then (a) the state may (or may not) have its own law parallel to 28 USC $ 1826, and (b) consistent with constitutional Due Process, the judge must periodically review the case to determine if further imprisonment is likely to have the desired coercive effect on you. Obviously, further imprisonment would have no coercive effect if you had already forgotten the password. But that's not the only scenario that would lead to release. If the judge concluded that you simply weren't going to crack, that too would satisfy the standard for release. Realistically, civil contempt imprisonment is highly unlikely to exceed 2 years. Just like in the federal case, release from civil contempt is likely to be followed by a prosecution for criminal contempt and a fixed-length jail term.

GweihirDecember 25, 2015 9:58 AM

@L.W.Smiley:

No. Simply no. In every such discussion, somebody comes along and suggests/asks/wonders what you just asked. The question has been discused to death, but the simple fact of the matter is that this is not a technological problem in the first place.

It is always possible to hide encrypted data in plan sight. Just claim it is (CP)RNG output. For them to be able to punish you for not decypting, they have to doctor reality and make you prove that it is not encrypted data. Of course that is not possible. In a sane legal system, there is hence a provision that you can just refuse to decrypt and they can do nothing.

With the increasingly insane legal systems the west is now establishing, your rights and presumption of innocence vanishes, opening up all kinds of venues to screw actually innocent people over. As you cannot get rid of the entropy when storing encrypted data, they will just lock up everybody where they suspect, including all the innocent ones they do not like. Of course, this has nothing at all to do anymore with right or wrong, but that is the direction things have been going in for a while.

The other problem is that no state should ever be able to prosecute all or even most crime. Even attempting to do so will establish a system somewhere between a police state and full-blown fascism. That is far, far worse than any amount of crime could ever be. Somehow, a mere 70 years after the last global fascist catastrophe, people have forgotten what the problem with that mind-set is and are driving things into that direction again.

AndyDecember 25, 2015 6:30 PM

I have worked loosely with people who train German K9 Handlers in a joint education panel (personally I do initial training of dogs for search and rescue like missing person or desaster/debris work).

One thing that came up here is the question of the used scent. That is a critical one.

Essentially you can only train a dog for so many scents before the effectiveness takes a hit due to false pos or neg displays. Usuallly, to have a high (close to 100%) certainty that scent Xyz will not pass undetected bit also desire a low false count you have to limit yourself to that one scent. That means... The dog finds exactly one class of drugs with a common denominator (like weed / hash) while a kilogram of Heroin goes through undetected. For drug dogs the sweet spot between correct displays and cost effectiveness seems to be two or three substances, commonly cannabis, cocaine and a substance that is precursor to amphetamine and analogue designer amphetamines. Presenting those dogs with a pharmgrade sample of amphetamine produced via a synthesis route that evades this common underground precursor leaves them totally uninterested. (These examples reflect the German policy, but illustrate the conumdrum just fine... Train the dog for anything under the sun and you will drown in false positives and lose actual items he is trained for due to exhaustion / distration of the dog).

So to be effective for as many media as possible they have to find a common denominator. I would not be surprised if that is indeed a chemical used in PCB board etching or something similar. This would give them a shot at SSD, USB sticks and spinning rust drives. But also produce a myriad of false positives (what does NOT have a PCB these days...?)

I am not sure what the lubricant / smoothing agent is used in spinning drives is these days, companies might have different ones that bear not enough chemical resemblance for a dog to respond to all of them, especially as those might change during models / batchescor decompose chemically over time as the drive ages)

So my thoughts...

1. This is FUD... ("Give up the drives, the dog will find them eventually..." - essentially a foundation for good cop / bad cop routine)

2. This is what was described above - a dog that sniffs nothing but will display an alert after a subtle sign from the handler, giving the cops reasonable cause to cut open the mattress or kick in some drywall...

3. There is a somewhat secret but common ingredient retailers have started to put into all kinds of mass media storage (secretly at the pressure of the US) that enables accurate sniffing and display because it stands out clearly for the dog.

This sounds like aluminium hat stuff but just think about the issue with color printers, the mysterious matrix pattern of yellow dots that appear on so many of those devicee and went unnoticed for God knows how long.

rDecember 25, 2015 6:55 PM

I recall seeing something about this vs hidden sdcards earlier this year.

Sorry no references.

ScortDecember 25, 2015 7:17 PM

Since it is not a crime to possess a hard drive, like it is for certain drugs, I honestly don't see how they could claim "probable cause" over a dog indicating a hard drive inside somewhere... However, as part of executing an already-valid search warrant looking for hard drives, it makes more sense for the dog to show the handler just where to destroy the walls of the house, so they don't end up bulldozing the whole house finding them all!

The abuse of this, therefore, would be to destroy your stuff to intimidate or harass you ("hey, the dog said they were in there (shrug)" at the tens of thousands of dollars of damage to your house), not as part of the initial entering per se. That doesn't mean an abuser wouldn't perform other non-hard-drive-sniffing-dog-related abuses to initially enter as well though! ("I thought I heard someone calling for help" is a common movie-example, or a lazy judge that will sign just about any ridiculous warrant may be more real-world likely)

anonymousDecember 25, 2015 7:25 PM

What about using the feature on truecrypt that shows a 2nd volume that can have other types of files in it?

BuckDecember 25, 2015 10:57 PM

Assuming for a moment that this actually works (I know first-hand that dogs have an amazing sense of smell for certain things - bones in particular)...

Like all technologies... (Can I not call our human companions a technology!? Ok, how about the standardized training tests that our friends must pass before being certified here - is that not a sort of science/technology..?) This dog could be used for good or bad.

Parallel construction is a real concern to freedom everywhere. Is it possible that some form of illegal surveillance could have homed-in on exactly where the dirty-goods were and alerted the handler who signaled the dog? Certainly!

Is it possible that a known hard drive was sufficiently hidden by a reasonably suspected criminal with a warrant already approved by a well-informed judge? Well, if the dog can actually sniff it out, awesome!! There's no fruit of the-poisonous-tree there... Just good old fashioned police work!

The problem is all the lying... Once you start, then every future conviction is up for being overturned with prejudice. Not even to mention all the selective prosecution that is necessarily involved when you have more criminals than hours in the day. :-/

thevoidDecember 26, 2015 2:45 AM

@Refusing to decrypt?

but probably everyone on this forum can attest to losing data on various media over the years because they forgot that 'unforgettable' phrase they memorised with some trick or other.

ha. yes, i'll attest to that. almost thought it happened to me again just
a few hours ago in fact, but thankfully not. my memory is certainly not
improving with age.

FooDecember 26, 2015 1:34 PM

@Refusing to decrypt?, thevoid

Indeed, it is already a crime in some countries to forget your encryption password... such backward fascist nazi stasi countries we have nowadays... We are lords of the thought crimes. Or non-thought (i.e. forgot something) crimes.

askerDecember 26, 2015 8:39 PM

so what's "parallel construction" anyway? is it that cops plant stuff at a "crime scene" that wasn't there in the first place?

also couldn't this dog thing work a bit as a magic act of sorts...make it look like the dog is really able to do something when it's merely pointing out to the handler various places where "some potentially interesting" smell comes from AND then it's up to the handler whether to indicate to the dog either...

1) "ignore that, fifi" (e.g by a gentle yank on the leash or some such) or
2) "good boy, fifi"

Other than that maybe there is some agreement in place to use some chemicals in hard disks in various types (like Andy said earlier). At least it's technically possible.

the man with no nameDecember 26, 2015 9:04 PM

Here's the answer to you all...sort of...

from this article: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-23/a-police-dog-for-the-digital-age-she-can-smell-the-usb-drive-you-re-hiding

In 1986, police trained the first dog in the world to sniff out arson with the help of Jack Hubball, who identified accelerants that the canines could focus on. He then moved on to help police train dogs to detect narcotics and bombs.
The chemist's latest trick? Getting dogs to pick up the scent for laptops, digital cameras and those easy-to-conceal USB drives. ...
To crack computer crimes, the 26-year forensics-lab veteran based in Connecticut had to first identify the chemicals associated with electronic-storage devices. Hubball took circuit boards, hard disks and flash drives of computers and tested each component. He narrowed the analysis down to a single common chemical, which police declined to specify or describe.

the man with no nameDecember 26, 2015 9:10 PM

Looks like the cops can search for the storage media first, and secure a warrant afterwards.

According to a story quoted in this article:
http://www.networkworld.com/article/2451084/microsoft-subnet/police-dog-sniffs-out-kiddie-porn-on-hidden-memory-cards-and-flash-drives.html

Given to the state police by the Connecticut State Police, the dog assisted in its first search warrant in June pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography hidden four layers deep in a tin box inside a metal cabinet. That discovery led the police to secure an arrest warrant.


BuckDecember 26, 2015 11:08 PM

@the man with no name

Well, it's certainly a good thing that the DHS can bring out their big noses! Even with the tip-off, there's obviously almost no doubt that the local yokel Rhode Island cops would never have thought to check the big metal filing cabinet for evidence... Hurrah! Chalk up yet another win for our most glorious of protectors!!! :-P

(Oh wait - MPAA you say!? I almost didn't even realize this was a parody article ;-)

Hw hackDecember 27, 2015 7:50 AM

Sounds interesting. This is very easy to verify: next time you handle a new circuit board just smell it. A new board have very distinctive smell.

albertDecember 27, 2015 11:43 AM

@the man with no name,

Search warrant, search, arrest warrant, arrest...what's your point?

. .. . .. _ _ _ ....

the man with no nameDecember 27, 2015 2:22 PM

@albert, @Buck

sorry, I did not mean I somehow agreed with the way these are handled. Somewhere during this discussion I got confused on whether cops are:
1. supposed to get a search warrant first and use the porn dog afterwards, or
2. use the porn dog first and get a search warrant afterwards

My intention was just to report on what they had done in that one case. Looks like option #2.

albertDecember 27, 2015 4:55 PM

@the man with no name,

From the wording, it looks like they had a warrant. Search techniques are not specified (but should not be illegal, like using the dog to force the suspect to present all his thumb drives:). The warrant would specifically indicate the goal of finding evidence of CP.

In theory (and in most cases, fortunately), the search warrant comes first, then the search. I doubt that most police would bring in the dogs without a warrant, as that would be illegal, and render any evidence obtained inadmissible, with the added bonus of pissing off the DA.

In public places, things can get complicated. With 'terrorism' being the key word, no doubt the cops could get away with seizing thumb drives, especially if public transportation, etc. are involved. If the cops find CP on his thumb drive in a terrorism investigation, I would think that evidence might not be admissible (especially if the 'suspect' is already being investigated for CP; what a coincidence), but IANAL.
. .. . .. _ _ _ ....

BuckDecember 27, 2015 5:47 PM

Yeah, in this case, it definitely sounds like they were using the dog in the process of executing an already existent search warrant... I would actually have been pretty impressed if it had sniffed out a drive that was buried deep in the woods or something. But the locked file cabinet!? Like nobody would have thought to look in there.

Naturally I assumed this was another case of a police department going overboard with their toys just because they can. You know, like the 1033 program that puts grenade launchers in the hands of K-12 school system police... However, the article seems to imply that the MPAA pioneered the field.

I thought that was kinda funny, but on further reflection, it does make some sense. They must have invested a lot of effort before realizing that kids who can't afford a movie ticket definitely aren't going to be able to pay the ridiculous amount of damages they were seeking. Using the techniques for slightly more practical purposes might provide some return on that investment. Now if they can only figure out what a bitcoin wallet smells like, they'll really be in business! :-P

ChelloveckDecember 28, 2015 9:42 AM

Aw, I'm disappointed. I was *so* hoping that the dogs were being used to detect the presence of child porn itself on the hard drives. Would have been even better if they could smell it even on encrypted drives.

AndyDecember 29, 2015 4:02 PM

Well, someone with ch3mical knowledge could head over to check if Sigma Aldrich offers it. They offer a range of synthetic narcotics, corpse, distressed person etc dog training scents. Maybe the the famed computer scent is already available there...

JonJanuary 2, 2016 2:33 AM

IANAL:

But it seems to me that if accused by a dog (alerting) then one's defense must ask that the dog itself be placed upon the stand for cross-examination.

Testimony by its handler is hearsay, and thus inadmissible.

If the dog is unable to be sworn in and/or answer questions, then the dog's evidence must be discarded.

---

I saw a study done once (briefly googled, didn't find a reference) where four drug dog teams were set to checking four rooms, each containing a large pile of boxes.

In two rooms, the box containing the drugs was marked by a red rag. In the other two rooms, the box containing the drugs was not marked. Another box in each room contained an open package of fully-cooked sausages.

In the rooms where the box containing the drugs was marked with a red rag, all four dog teams alerted on that box. In the rooms where the box was not marked, all four dog teams alerted, but on several different boxes. They never alerted on the sausage boxes.

Of course, (you saw this coming, didn't you?) there were no drugs at all in any of the four rooms...

NB: Those unlawful searches that don't find anything never get reported, because no charges get filed, and there's no court case at all. Reporting the number of false alarms would go a long long way towards improving (or not...) trust in such things.

J.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.