A Long Island woman was visited by local police officers working on an anti-terrorism detail, allegedly as a result of her family’s Google searches. Michele Catalano, a writer for Death and Taxes magazine, was searching Google to compare pressure cookers to buy. Then, as she writes for Medium, six men in plainclothes came to her house in a SUV. The men, who turned out to have been from the the Nassau County Police Department, asked about the couple’s Google search history, according to Catalano. They were concerned about queries for “backpacks” and “pressure cookers” coming from the same home at the same time… It turns out that her husband was researching backpacks for an upcoming trip as well. Per Catalano:
They were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked…
Have you ever looked up how to make a pressure cooker bomb? My husband, ever the oppositional kind, asked them if they themselves weren’t curious as to how a pressure cooker bomb works, if they ever looked it up. Two of them admitted they did.
Pressure cookers rigged into bombs and stuffed into backpacks were used in the Boston Marathon attacks. But, here’s the thing… When The Guardian looked into it, the FBI told them local police visited the couple. How did local police know the Catalano family’s alleged searches?
Maybe the NSA’s internet wiretap capabilities led to the visit. Maybe local police have more interesting toys than we ever expected. We simply don’t know… But in the meantime, it might be good for your family or business to only Google safe things, like really cute dogs.
Disclosure: The author is a freelancer for Medium, where Catalano first published her account of the NCPD visit. The author also previously wrote for True/Slant, a publication Catalano wrote for as well.
[Image: U.S. National Guard]
Update: This turns out to be less a case of snooping by a government entity than it was a concerned former employer contacting authorities. In a statement, Suffolk County police said they questioned the family based on suspicious searches the husband made on his work computer. After he left his previous position at a Bay Shore computer company, IT employees found the suspicious keywords on a work computer and informed local law enforcement. We will update with any other relevant info on this story, which was still developing at the time it was originally written.
So, readers, pro tip #102: Don’t search for bomb info on the Internet while you’re on the job… unless it, you know, actually has to do with your job.