I read an article yesterday about missing Madeleine McCann’s parents, Kate and Gerry, signing a book deal.
As much of the world knows, the toddler went missing some years ago from a holiday apartment on the south coast of Portugal while her parents were nearby having dinner with friends.
After I read the short report, that old saying that criminals return to the scene of their crime came into my head.
These days criminals may also very often go to, and return to, online reports about their crime. Whereas some criminals wouldn’t have the IT skills to search for reports of their crime online, paedophiles are often hugely IT literate if the arrests for their internet pornography activities are anything to go by.
In all probability, Madeleine was kidnapped by an individual who may have had accomplices or who may have passed her to other paedophiles.
It’s a reasonable assumption that the person, or some of the people, involved in the kidnap sometimes look at internet sites about the kidnapping, about Madeleine, the McCanns and the failed police investigation.
Googling Madeleine McCann at present (November 2010) turns up 1,180, 000 hits. In cyberspace terms, that’s a fairly small number of websites reporting on or discussing Madeleine’s disappearance.
For search analysts at the search engine giants like Yahoo and Google it would be a simple task to run a check on the IP addresses of everyone visiting those sites since the kidnap and pick out any patterns.
If a particular IP address, or range of IP addresses, or unrelated IP addresses crop up again and again, then the police could trace those internet users and ask them questions.
As well as checking IP addresses Yahoo and Google could play a role in trapping Madeleine’s kidnapper by turning up the search terms used by people at those addresses. They may have used search terms that reveal their knowledge of the crime. Say the kidnapper stayed at a certain address during the days around the kidnap, or say he took Madeleine to a certain town or village. He may have searched online to see if the police or any reports had made a connection between “Madeleine McCann + that-search-term.” That would be more specific and more revealing than searches such as “finding Madeleine McCann” or “trapping Madeleine McCanns kidnapper.”
If certain IP addresses turn up over and over again, Yahoo and Google can give the police details of users’ geographic location.
There shouldn’t be any danger to people innocently visiting those sites. Journalists and investigators for example, and members of the McCann family or staff at their website could easily explain their interest. And concerned members of the public would be able to establish that they weren’t near the Portuguese holiday complex that night.
Checking IP addresses for patterns would simply point the police in certain directions and give them leads to follow in an investigation which seems to have gone completely cold.
I realise that the police may thought of this long ago and may have asked Yahoo and Google to monitor sites about Madeleine. I don’t know if the search engine companies would co-operate or not.
One thing I do know is that if the kidnapper who abducted the little girl has visited lots of websites about Madeleine, to admire his own warped behaviour, then it’s too late for him to cover his tracks.
His IP address footprint is out there in cyberspace – and there’s nothing he can do to erase it.
*** Kate and Gerry McCann run a website dedicated to finding Madeleine and identifying her kidnapper at: www.findmadeleine.com/ ***