Technology helps the good guys win one

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Like we have been known to say, this Internet thing is going to catch on someday ...

Social networking has been given a lot of credit for movements like the "Arab Spring," some of it deserved, but people are finding more and more ways to use its power in a personal way.

One of the latest examples involves an Oakland, California, man who got his laptop back after using Facebook and Twitter to pressure police into following up on leads generated by theft-tracking software in his computer.

The owner, Joshua Kaufman, had just installed the theft-tracking software, didn't even know if it would work. He activated it anyway, and soon started getting grainy images from the laptop's built-in webcam by e-mail.

After he received a "so-what" response from the police, he started publishing the pictures on Twitter and a blog titles "This Guy has my MacBook."

When it went viral, that got the cops' attention.

After identifying a man pictured sitting on a couch, shirtless on a bed, and logging into his company's e-mail account as a 27-year-old cab driver, Muthana Aldebashi, the police called him for a cab ride and arrested him on Tuesday. He's being held on $20,000 bail in the Alameda County jail.

In a way, we can't blame the Oakland police for their response to the theft of Kaufman's property. In the scheme of things, the crime -- besides the laptop, someone took a bag, an electronic book reader and a bottle of gin from his new apartment -- wouldn't be a high priority in many jurisdictions.

They did apologize profusely after they began getting calls from the media, and gave the case their full attention, but that isn't exactly fair to victims of the other 2,400 theft cases their department receives each month.

It's also a scary thought that electronic spying is so effective, especially if it is abused by authorities.

But the Internet is living up to its early promise to become a great equalizer, providing power to the average user.

And it's nice to see the good guys win one once in a while.

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