May 4, 2011 at 1:26 PM ET
While crime shows still show a lot of gumshoe detective work in the pursuit of the most depraved lawbreakers, they've also incorporated resident computer geniuses who often prove pivotal to solving cases. Real life isn't far behind, with police now regularly going online to find clues.
A recent New York Times story by Al Baker highlights several ways online research has helped the men and women in blue to bring criminals to justice, many of which will be familiar to fans of "Criminal Minds," "CSI" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit":
It's often a hot trail for detectives to follow, full of potential, but also full of red herrings, which the Times piece also points out: fake emails, disposable cellphones and hacked Wi-Fi.
Cybersleuthing is not just for cops; we've written about plenty of amateurs who have tracked down their device thieves. But violent crime is another matter. In that jurisdiction, the police — not to mention federal agencies — have many more resources.
As for what information companies will willingly give up, the Times' Baker wrote this:
While it's important police are able to access certain information to solve crimes, at what point does it clash with a person's right to privacy? Not to mention the paranoia that can induced from the constant surveillance from Big Brother. It's enough to make even the most reasonable person develop an inner conspiracy theorist. But if helps solve crimes, is it worth the price in civil liberties?