Think of a Google search on steroids. The terms “Open Source” and “Open Source Intelligence” (OSINT) refer to personal information and data held by social media platforms, websites, academic institutions, and public government records. Of course, these are just a few sources that may be found by scraping (searching) the Internet.
Each time you sign up for an online account (social media) or make a purchase, your information is subject to being traded, sold, or hacked. And while we don’t want to create unnecessary fear or panic, companies and governments invest heavily in encryption standards. The reality, however, is that “some” of your personal information is likely to be found. And yet, we dare not reference what is found on the Dark Web.
Your Digital Fingerprint
Everyone leaves a digital fingerprint when they visit the web. You don’t have a choice unless you are prepared to go off the grid! In that case, forget about attending a concert or sporting event. We argue your most significant identifier is no longer your fingerprint or DNA. It is your phone. You might want to read that “User Agreement” before hitting “I Accept.” Your digital fingerprint is what private investigators are seeking.
Compared to other countries, Canada tends to protect and regulate personal data more stringently than most. In Canada, it is considerably more arduous for an investigator (or any individual) to identify and collect open source data about an individual than our neighbors to the south. Feel better? Don’t! Despite existing privacy laws, an OSINT investigator can easily find troves of publicly available data. And to be clear, this is a private investigator’s gold mine!
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) Software
As we alluded, the major challenge is identifying, retrieving, and matching data to an individual with certainty. This is where a trained open-source investigator proves invaluable. While legitimate concerns arise about publicly available data, they are an equal number of reasons why such information should be accessible. Open-source information enhances global security and protects against unidentified or emerging threats. Investigators use it for:
- Social catfishing
- Skip tracing
- Locates (missing persons)
- Sureveillance operations
The ability to perform OSINT investigations is a tool all investigators must possess. Collecting online data becomes an arduous (and often incomplete) task when manually performed. Increased automation and cutting-edge software overcome these challenges as information is retrieved and matched within seconds. For the skilled investigator, this serves as the starting point for an investigation.
What to ask a Private Investigator?
Investigators must view the Internet as an essential investigative aid. They must be skilled in its use. When selecting an investigator to work on your behalf, inquire about their knowledge of open source data and OSINT software. A savvy investigator should be able to provide immediate examples of how they use OSINT software to support investigative objectives. A positive response demonstrates a proper understanding of Internet-based investigational techniques and client interests.
Our advice. Be mindful as to what you post and accept when accessing the Internet. You might be surprised by the trace you left behind.