Police Track Fugitives by IP Address

According to the Coloradoan, immigration officials in the United States used the IP address used for Spotify and Netflix to help apprehend fugitives in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  Law enforcement was chasing down Brittany Nunn and Peter Barr after Ms. Nunn lost a custody battle.  Rather than turn her 4 and 6 year old daughters over to their biological fathers Nunn decided to make a run for it.  The couple took the kids and fled to Mexico.

Cabo

Police in the United States started to investigate the couple’s whereabouts after Brittany skipped the custody exchange hearing in early December.  Within days the police thought they had a lead.  The couple may have fled to Minnesota where Nunn’s family lived.  That didn’t pan out leaving law enforcement in search of the couple and two small children.  The case matched thousands of other custody disputes. In the months to come investigators used their IP address to track them to Mexico.

The couple led immigration officials right to their doorstep in Cabo through their Internet activities.  Law enforcement in the United States served Spotify with a search warrant to pull Nunn’s account information.  As you might guess the most important piece of data was the IP address used by Nunn to access Spotify.  Police did the same with other popular streaming services like Netflix to conclude the IP address was a match.  Coupled with a delivery to Nunn at the physical address matching her IP address, the police had enough to go on to apprehend the couple and return the kids to their fathers.

Nunn, Barr, and the children were all deported back to Denver last Wednesday.  After a short debriefing at a local Chick-fil-A the kids left with their fathers.  Nunn and Barr will face multiple counts for fleeing with the kids.  This case shows just how easy it is to find users based on IP address.  Copyright holders have been doing it for years to send out threatening notices.  Police have quietly used the same technique in investigations.  It’s quite effective in finding a person’s location.  With the Internet of things (IoT) adding communication abilities to products at record pace it might not be long before your location is tracked all the time.  Are you carrying a smart phone?  Now imagine your watch, shoes, and thousands of other products being able to share your location.

We’re happy the police were able to find the kids and return them to the United States.  The use of technology helped them return the children safely to their fathers.  The problem lies in the ability of anyone to track you based on IP address.  The IoT is already leaking your location more than you might ever know.  This helps law enforcement in times of need but it also puts us all at risk.  This is one reason companies like Google and Apple have started to encrypt hardware and communications.  Trading our privacy for security could very well cost us both.