When you think of how all-pervasive the Internet is, it’s hard to believe that the web has only been in the public domain for 33 years. What started out as a research and communication tool for scientists and academicians has become a source for everything from history to recipes to word games to DIY tutorials and much, much more. It’s also a powerful tool for communication and collaboration. And that’s not to mention shopping and celebrity gossip. And of course, the web is a very useful tool in the world of law enforcement and crime detection.
The Web is spun through a lot of crime fiction, where we see it used in a number of ways. I’ll just mention three of them. One of them has to do with the evidence that sleuths find via the web. It might be tracing a missing victim’s last movements or finding a victim’s family members. It could be checking a suspect’s alibi or searching for a link between a suspect and a victim. And of course, the police and other detectives search social media for information on victims and suspects. We see that, for instance, in Cathy Ace’s WISE Enquiries Agency mysteries. These focus on four women (one Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish, and one English) who’ve put together a detective agency. They don’t have the authority of law, but the web makes it possible for them to find out a lot of things without having to get a search warrant.
The web provides a key clue in Peter Robinson’s Cold is the Grave. Chief Constable Jimmy Riddle’s daughter Emily has left home. No one’s heard from her, but then, her younger brother Benjamin sees a pornographic film of her online. It’s not going to be easy to trace the film, but Riddle is determined to find his daughter. He’s so determined, in fact, that he turns to Chief Inspector Alan Banks for help. He’s been after Banks for a long time, determined to end his career, but Banks is an excellent detective with integrity. For his part, Banks has no liking for or trust in Riddle, but Banks is a father himself, and can understand Riddle’s fears. And it’s a crime problem that needs to be solved. So, he agrees to work the case. It turns out that this case is connected to some of London’s seamier secrets…
Police and other detectives also use the web to share information and resources. For instance, in Mark Billingham’s Their Little Secret, Inspector Tom Thorne and his team are investigating a suicide. It turns out that the dead woman was the victim of a con man named Conrad Simpkin; so, even if Simpkin wasn’t directly responsible for her death, the police want to stop him. It’s not going to be easy, though. Simpkin has used more than one alias, so tracing his movements won’t be easy. Then, there’s another death, this time a murder. What’s more, a DNA sample from the murder weapon matches Patrick Jennings, one of the names that Simpkin has used. Now, there’s a link between the con man and a murder victim, and Thorne is determined to catch Simpkin. Throughout the case, information on identities, fingerprints, DNA and so on are all made available because of the World Wide Web. And in the end, that’s part of what solves the crimes.
Cat Connor’s Ellie Iverson is a Special Agent in Charge (SAC) for the FBI. More than once, she and her team deal with a case that involves more than one agency (sometimes even more than one country). For instance, Qubyte sees the team looking into, among other things, a series of deaths that are linked to the intelligence community. In order to get to the truth about the matter, the team uses the FBI’s own considerable web resources. But they also make use of information from other agencies, such as the CIA and the CDC. These groups do have their own ‘turfs,’ but they also share information when it’s relevant, and they depend on secured web sites to do that. And that’s to say nothing of email and other web technology.
Of course, criminals use the web, too. Con artists set up fake websites, or reach out to potential victims through date sites, or run other online scams. For example, Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? is the story of Yvonne Mulhern. She, her husband Gerry, and their newborn daughter, have recently moved from London to Dublin, so Gerry can take advantage of a job opportunity. Being a new parent is never easy, and Yvonne finds it especially difficult because Gerry is often busy with his job, and she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin. So, she turns to the World Wide Web for support. She finds an online support group called Netmammy, and is soon an eager part of the group. Then, one of the members goes ‘off the grid.’ Yvonne’s concerned enough about it to go to the police, but they really can’t do anything. Not long afterwards, the body of a woman is found in an abandoned apartment. It’s possible this is Yvonne’s friend, and if it is, that has a lot of implications for the members of Netmammy…
There’s also Brannavan Gnanalingam’s Sprigs. Like a lot of young people, fifteen-year-old Priya Gaianan wants to fit in and be accepted. And that’s difficult enough as a person of Sri Lankan background living in Auckland. So, when one of Priya’s friends invites her to go along to a party one Saturday night, Priya accepts. It takes some doing, but she gets permission from her parents and goes to the party. It’s an end-of-season party for an exclusive boys school rugby team, so the mood is upbeat, the music’s playing, and the drink is flowing. Priya drinks too much and ends up being gang-raped by four of the rugby players. Someone records what happened, and it’s soon up on the Internet and being downloaded. Priya, of course, is devastated, and at first, can’t even tell her parents. When she does finally tell them, and the police get involved, they find that the guilty people have shared the video and commented on it and had several text conversations about what happened. They use the web to share what happened and try to stay out of trouble, and the police use it to press their case.
And that’s the thing about the World Wide Web. It’s got many uses – more each day – and can used for both good and bad, for both committing and stopping crimes. Happy birthday, WWW. Love it or hate it, the Web is entrenched.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Bragg’s Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained.