Can Googling be dangerous?

Suppose that I am an intellectually curious sort. Since I live in Oklahoma and the Terry Nichols trial is underway, there has been a lot of talk in the press about the OKC bombing. Being curious, I’d like to know exactly how Timothy McVeigh managed to blow up a government building just by using fertilizer, diesel fuel, etc. I have no intentions of doing anything illegal but is Googling about illegal activities just to satisfy an idle curiosity a bad idea?

I am not asking for a link on building a bomb. (I’m sure the mods would love that.) The previous hypothetical could have been replaced with making methamphetamines or any other illegal activity.

Please remain where you are. Agents are being dispatched to your residence to…uh…answer your questions.

No more illegal than to purchase the Anarchist Cookbook.

I know it’s not illegal. Is it a bad idea?

As of this point in our history, it is not illegal to search through public databases for ANY information, be it bomb making, amphetamine cooking, or how to commit the perfect murder.

It IS illegal to search through “secure” databases, but this would require some hacking expertise on your part; theoretically, you shouldn’t be able to get into one if all you’re doing is Googling.

Theoretically, if someone took an interest in you, they could contact your ISP and make a point of noting what you did on the internet; it’s much like a wiretap, and has never been easier, due to the Patriot Act. But even then, so long as you didn’t break any hacking laws, you would still be perfectly safe.

Admittedly, they could drag you in on suspicion of something or other, if you went looking for bomb information, and then could lock you up nearly indefinitely while you were interrogated, and then use yet other unconstitutional tricks made legal by the Patriot Act, while they figured out exactly why you were looking for this information…

…but it ain’t illegal.

Well, we’ve established that Googling for this kind of stuff is not illegal, but whether or not it’s a good idea is simply a matter of opinion.

IMO, self control is necessary to browse certain illicit material. Details on such things may be worded so it sounds easy, maybe even fun, whatever it may be (homemade bombs, growing marijuana, etc.). If you doubt your self control, or are Googling for the sole purpose of committing such acts, then I think it’s a bad idea.

If, however, you simply wish to be enlightened on the subject of illegal activities for the sake of increased knowledge, then go right ahead - no harm, no foul.

I may just paranoid, but I think your advice may be a bit irresponsible. I make no claims that I know better or that you are wrong, but I think it is fair to say that given the current state of things, that certain combinations of words like the ones in the OP may in fact illicit scrutiny from certain federal organizations. Particularly one that starts with “N” has an “Z” really its an s but we have to be careful, and ends with an “A”.

(notice the innocuous wording? I may be paranoid, but better safe than sorry.)

nsa bot: your comments have been forwarded to the office of homeland security.


askeptic who? I registered from a local library with a yahoo e-mail. :smiley:

“bomb bomb bomb…bomb bomb b-bomb…bomb bomb bomb b-bomb bomb b-bomb…”

-Gaylord Foker

There’s a difference between:

  1. knowing how to make a bomb (simply possessing the knowledge with no intention of putting that knowledge into practice)

  2. knowing how to make a bomb and intending to put that knowledge into practice in order to blow it up in an empty field just because you like pretty explosions

  3. knowing how to make a bomb and intending to use that knowledge to make a weapon for use against other people or property

  4. actually making a bomb with no intention to use it

  5. actually making a bomb and blowing it up in an empty field

  6. actually making a bomb and using it as a weapon

There’s no need for vague paranoia when you can be legally accurate. Numbers 1,2,4 and 5 are not illegal (far as I’m aware, although I’m sure someone will be along to correct me if I’m wrong). Numbers 3 and 6 are.

Obviously, if the police stormed your house one day and found a ready-made bomb you would have a hard time proving that it was just for scientific purposes (you’re interested in pyrotechnics) but the point is assuming that you could prove you made the bomb for innocent purposes then you wouldn’t have done anything wrong.

As regards googling for information on bomb-making. Can your ISP track what websites you visit? Even if they can, they would probably only be doing this if the police were already interested in you for other reasons.

And in any case, merely googling for information is not illegal in itself - although it may possibly be used as evidence against you if you were prosecuted for some other offence.

Personally, one of the first things I did when I got net access was look for all the “dodgy” websites I’d heard so much about. One thing I discovered is that there are people out there who genuinely do make bombs just for purely innocent reasons (coz they are pyromaniacs).

I have read various SAS type novels where they always make bombs out of ordinary ingredients lying around in your kitchen so I was interested in how this is done. You never know when you may need it. I’ve never tried it mainly because it is extremely dangerous, not because I’m worried about the legal implications.

But the reason I was interested in it is purely because it’s an interesting subject and I’m interested in ALL interesting subjects from an academic standpoint. eg you can make a functional bomb out of flour and water apparently, which is why flour mills can be quite dangerous places to work.

Nitroglycerin, on the other hand, is incredibly unstable and you would have to be an idiot to go anywhere near the stuff. Adding sawdust stabilises it somewhat. Nitroglycerin and sawdust is basically what dynamite is. The history of dynamite is quite interesting - I think a lot of people got blown up before they figured out that you need to add sawdust.

I wouldn’t worry about terrorists. I’m sure Osama already knows all this stuff. And home-grown terrorists will find out what they need to know anyway - they won’t come here for their information.

it could be bad in conjunction with some other illegal activity. If you ever ended up being charged with something, They could have the capacity to use records of such interests to discredit you. maybe go to the library and use their lines?

this reminds me that i once bought a book on growing pot, and at the register, realized i only had my credit card to pay with. shrug … not quite bomb-making.

and remember, it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

By the way when I said this:

I should also say that it is highly unlikely that any lawyer would ever use “websites visited” as evidence in a case (concerning bomb-making). This evidence would be weak, to say the least:

“Your honour, I accuse the defendent of being a terrorist. My evidence is that he looked at a few shady websites”

He would be laughed out of court. So looking at websites would only ever be used as a minor piece of evidence - “yes and as part of my evidence I submit that he also used to frequent bomb-making websites”. But there would need to be HUGE evidence of involvement with shady websites to justify it being brought up as evidence. Just visiting the odd website now and then really wouldn’t cut it. In fact you would probably need to be actually involved in running the website before it would be relevant.

If I was a lawyer for the defence and my opponent brought up “websites viewed” as evidence, I would assume that he didn’t really have a case and was getting desperate. If that’s the best he’s got then I would go on the attack with every expectation of winning.

I would agree that any case against a Googler would be extremely weak and probably wouldn’t ever make it into a courtroom. But the likelihood of success in a court of law is little solice to someone being indefinitely detained as Masta Wang-Ka mentioned. If I thought that the possibility of detention due to Googling was 1/100th of 1%, that would be enough to discourage my idle curiosity.

Your possibility of being detained indefinitely is even less than that, if you are basing it purely on “websites visited”.

If they detain you under the various terrorism acts that have been enacted around the world then yes there is a chance that you may be deprived of your liberty for a while.

Despite all the hoo-hah, I think that, at the moment (in the UK) we have precisely two people detained indefinitely under the terrorism acts. And in both cases there is overwhelming evidence that they may be a threat. Nothing to do with “websites visited”.

So this scenario [of detention without trial] is unnecessary scare-mongering, I would say. Don’t worry about it overmuch.

If you’re very concerned about this, then surf anonymously. There are many free and paid services that let you do this.

You can go here where for a one-time lifetime $15 fee, you can acess up-to-date lists on anonymous services.

Proving intent is an incredibly bitchy thing to do without some other kind of evidence to back it up.

True, the Man would likely not be interested in you for googling… unless he had another reason to be interested in you. This does not actually make you guilty of anything; I just read an article involving a woman whose house got searched because of high electric bills; the cops were quite sure she had gro-lights in her closets, growin’ dope.

Seek knowledge at your own risk.

The current guvment doesn’t trust people who have too much “intellectual curiosity”. For instance someone has removed the Ricin patent from the USPTO database which was mentioned in the March/2004 Crypto-gram monthly newsletter (Link). Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the Feds run some sites with info on nasty things, trapping and tracing back visitor IP addresses for “further attention”. Paranoia is getting the best of us these days.

Security Notes from All Over: USPTO

The ricin patent is no longer available from the U.S. Patent Office

In October 1962, the U.S. Patent Office granted patent 3,060,165
regarding the use of ricin as a biological weapon. Published patents
are, of course, publicly available. That’s the whole point of the
patent process.

All U.S. patents are available from the USPTO website. As the site
says: “full-text since 1976, full-page images since 1790.”

However, this particular patent is no longer in the database. Search
for it, and you’ll get a “Patent not found” image.

The obvious reason for its removal is fear that it would fall into the
wrong hands. But the patent is still available in foreign databases,
so this seems like a rather pointless exercise. You can still get the
patent from the European Patent Office. The German Patent Office also
has a version.

More and more, we’re seeing the U.S. government take public information
and try to hide it. Sometimes there are pretty obvious reasons why,
like this one. Sometimes there are no obvious reasons why, and
terrorism looks like an excuse. There’s resilient security in
openness, and brittle security in secrecy.

Google search histories, and site visits might well be used by police authorities. But such use should be detrimental to you only if you had actually used the information to commit a crime, such as subsequently helping and advising a friend on how to build a bomb that he then used to kill 168 people. In that hypothetical case, you would be guilty of being an accessory before the fact to felony murder and the electron trail would be evidence of your guilt.

If the government chooses to use such information to act against you without evidence that your activities were related to some actual crime, they would be committing a crime themselves. They might do so, anyway. If your last name is Ayoub, or Habib, it is not unreasonable for you to assume that overzealous bureaucrats, including those holding the offices charged specifically with protecting your rights could well ignore the criminal nature of such government action.

It is happening. Pretending that it isn’t, or assuming that your own particular segment of the ethnic salad bar won’t have its turn is how freedom is lost.

You can’t defend your own rights unless you protect everyone’s rights.


I have often wondered myself if internet search engines are dangerous…i was researching a debate for my human sexuality class the other week, some of the info i was looking up were on illegal sexual acts (pedophilia), and while curious…i was afraid further probing for internet info on the topic would lead me to sites i didn’t want to be anywhere near…sad really