Law Enforcement, Courts Need to Better Understand IP Addresses, Stop Misuse
If police raided a home based only on an anonymous phone call claiming residents broke the law, it would be clearly unconstitutional.
Yet EFF has found that police and courts are regularly conducting and approving raids based on the similar type of unreliable digital evidence: Internet Protocol (IP) address information.
In a whitepaper released today, EFF challenges law enforcement and courts’ reliance on IP addresses, without more, to identify the location of crimes and the individuals responsible. While IP addresses can be a useful piece of an investigation, authorities need to properly evaluate the information, and more importantly, corroborate it, before IP address information can be used to support police raids, arrests, and other dangerous police operations.
IP address information was designed to route traffic on the Internet, not serve as an identifier for other purposes. As the paper explains, IP addresses information isn’t the same as physical addresses or license plates that can pinpoint an exact location or identify a particular person. Put simply: there is no uniform way to systematically map physical locations based on IP addresses or create a phone book to lookup users of particular IP addresses.
Law enforcement’s over-reliance on the technology is a product of police and courts not understanding the limitations of both IP addresses and the tools used to link the IP address with a person or a physical location. And the police too often compound that problem by relying on metaphors in warrant applications that liken IP addresses to physic