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Police Departments Are Training Dogs To Sniff Out Thumb Drives (cnet.com) 159

A CNET report provides some insight on an elite K-9 search class that trains dogs to sniff out electronics, including phones, hard drives and microSD cards smaller than your thumb. From the report: Only one out of every 50 dogs tested qualifies to become an electronic storage detection, or ESD, dog, says Kerry Halligan, a K-9 instructor with the Connecticut State Police. That's because it's a lot harder to detect the telltale chemical in electronics than it is to sniff out narcotics, bombs, fire accelerants or people, she says. But Labrador retrievers like Harley, with their long snouts and big muzzles, can pick up even the faintest olfactory clues. These tech-seeking dogs are helping law enforcement find child pornography stashed in hidden hard drives, uncover concealed phones, nab white-collar evidence kept on hard drives and track calls stored on SIM cards. The most famous case occurred in 2015, when a Labrador retriever named Bear found a hidden flash drive containing child pornography in the home of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. The district attorney called the discovery vital to Fogle's conviction.

Police Departments Are Training Dogs To Sniff Out Thumb Drives

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  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @07:33PM (#56768842) Journal

    These tech-seeking dogs are helping law enforcement find child pornography stashed in hidden hard drives, uncover concealed phones, nab white-collar evidence kept on hard drives and track calls stored on SIM cards.

    Track calls? That's SOME nose on them dogs.

    • Next they'll be sniffing out unprotected WiFi base stations.
    • Heck, it had me at "find child pornography stashed in hidden hard drives"! Wow! they have biologic quantum decrypting noses?

      Anyone that puts stuff (illegal OR personal) on a USB stick in anything other than an encrypted volume is an idiot. Someone grabs my USB keys and they get nothing but random data bits.

      • by TheInternetGuy ( 2006682 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @10:18PM (#56769484)
        I mean you could just rely on precedence from the People Vs. O.J Simpson , and the inherent protection of the USB port.

        - Prosecutor sticks drive in USB port, fumbles, turns it over , fumbles some more...
        - Defense: Your Honor, members of the Jury, if the drive wont fit , you must acquit.
      • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

        Where did you see that he had stuff on a USB stick? I just looked up his case. He was found out by his own mouth, a wire tap and a real CP guy that had records of Fogle. They seized his stuff, I don't see any mention of a USB stick anywhere. If you don't remember that's fine. This would be the first case that I know of where they stored stuff on a USB stick and had nothing on their machine. Usually it's all on their machine. In the open. They don't think they'll ever get caught.

        Want a real read? Read about

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Track calls? That's SOME nose on them dogs.

      K9 has a laser nose and a USB tongue [wikipedia.org] (or was it the other way around?)

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Of course they can track calls, just as accurately as they can accurately sniff out electronic devices.

      My old co-worker had a police dog signal on his car, mind you this guy is so clean he squeaks when he walks. He made the mistake of getting lost (while being white) in a minority neighborhood with drug dealers. He figured out where he took the wrong turn, but the cops pulled him over after about 2 blocks when he stated driving again. They asked him what he was doing, he admitted he got lost after a long da

      • Welcome to America; where you have to paint yourself as a flag-toting boyscout that volunteers at soup kitchens 8-days-a-week before sharing a story of authoritarian abuse.

      • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @10:40PM (#56769544) Journal

        Someone did an interesting experiment. They invited police dogs, with their handlers, to an experiment. There were drugs hidden in certain places in a room. The test was explained to the cops "we want to see if your dog finds the drugs hidden under the blue bowl". The dogs all reliably signaled on the blue bowl.

        The drugs were, of course, under the red bowl. The dog /handlers reliably signaled where the handler wanted them to, and not where the drugs were.

        That's not to say there aren't a FEW dogs and handlers who are very good. The majority of them completely fail basic tests.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          This comment high lights the reality of drug sniffing dogs. Did the same person who put the drugs under the bowl, handle the other bowl and hence spoiled the experiment. In the case of dogs sniffing electronics, well, that is a scam and lie and devious misdirection. So what did they sniff, why the person handling the device and the device is likely to be pretty onerous considering what the person is doing and will be handling the device before and after. So smelling the person and not the device but the who

          • I did not find the study the GPP referred to, but I have seen several studies indicating that drug and explosive sniffing dogs tend to signal where the handler thinks there is something to be found. Here is a link to an article about one such study: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/w... [ucdavis.edu]
            And I believe that this is the paper on the study referenced in that article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]
            If this technique is used solely to locate hidden devices which are known to exist, and not as an excuse to search
        • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
          I'm surprised this got a +5 interesting without any actual evidence of the study or even a link to an article.

          I've been to a training academy for police dogs. I got to hide the contraband myself and the handlers were not present. All 3 dogs being trained that day had no problem locating the stash.

          Can the handlers have an influence on the dog? Absolutely. That is likely poor training of the handler, though.
          • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday June 12, 2018 @09:05AM (#56771230) Journal

            Here's an article:
            http://bigthink.com/neurobonke... [bigthink.com]

            About this similar study:
            https://link.springer.com/arti... [springer.com]

            I'm sure you can find more with about 60 seconds on Google.

          • > Can the handlers have an influence on the dog? Absolutely. That is likely poor training of the handler, though.

            Cop wants to search your car. The cop has been trained that if he says the dog alerted on your car, the court will allow the search. Cop says the dog alerted on your car, and gets to search it. That's totally successful as far as the cops are concerned.

            The cops have no incentive to refrain from arbitrary searches.

          • Just because the dogs can actually be trained to find the stuff, does not mean that they will not also "signal" on subtle cues from their handlers as well. I think we all know the science behind how well dogs can detect smells isn't just some bogus claim the police use to end-run the Constitution. And yet, there is plenty of research into this issue and a LOT more anecdotal evidence to back up the idea that police dogs are misused at an alarming level.

            However, one does get tired of the "citation needed" d
          • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

            Yes, the dogs will find actual stashes. But they'll also alert on nonexistent stashes, if they believe they should (especially if reward-trained -- then you get "offered" behavior). As the Springer link lays out: Handler expectations influence the behavior of trained dogs, and even when you =think= you're giving no cues, the dog will pick up on it.

            [pro dog trainer here; doesn't surprise me in the least, especially with highly reactive breeds like German Shepherds.]

      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        I should add, this guy had (at the time) a pretty good security clearance, had his fingerprints rolled at least 3 times a year for various reasons (not just the SC) so he could be checked out, and had random urine tests (usually a couple times a year) just like me.

        Yeah, you lost me here because it's clear that you don't know wtf you're talking about.

    • a lot more important than smelling explosive belts i suppose ... THAT DAMN ILLEGAL AUDIOBOOK !
  • by Kaenneth ( 82978 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @07:37PM (#56768854) Homepage Journal

    They use the dogs on rooms that all visible electronics have already been removed, so only hidden electronics would be in the room.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      More like they just need some phony reason to justify unreasonable search and seizure

      In the 'good old days', and officer could just swear that they 'smelled the odor of marijuana' to get a free pass to search without a warrant, now they just need some dog with a vest on and the ability to read the 'signal'.

      I think that Benjamin Franklin said, 'It's okay to give up your basic rights if it is "for the children"'.... right?

  • People used to make clothing out of AOL CDs [pinimg.com]. Crooks can just make them out of thumb drives now.

    • I suspect that this would annoy the cops; and quite possibly give them an opening to charge you with some sort of hazardous waste infraction; but the price of shredded lower grade electronic scrap is only modestly higher than that of mulch. Fido and friends could spend days grovelling through fiberglass fragments.

      A more elegant, if more involved, process would probably be to cook up an 'air freshener' infused with the less-than-totally-delightful scent of partially scorched flux, outgassing epoxy; and mi
  • I wonder if pot-sniffing dogs can be retrained to do something useful, in saner states which are legalizing...
    • Apparently the problem is that, while you can train a dog to react to more things; it's quite difficult to get them to lose interest in things you previously trained them to care about; which makes your former pot hounds a lousy source of probable cause: If the police can at least claim that doggo only 'indicates' in response to illicit narcotics then they can either just proceed, or get really trivial permission to proceed, on the basis of the dog smelling something.

      If the dog 'indicates' in response to
      • So put them up for adoption or just give them a shot of "blue juice"?
        • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
          One of the sheriffs in Illinois is arguing that if the state legalizes pot all the police dogs will have to be put down. Not re-purposed or sent to retire with their handlers (like usually happens when they are no longer able to do their jobs). Euthanized. It's the "Think of the doggos!" approach to keeping pot illegal.
          • Fine with me. Better a few dogs be euthanized than many humans' lives be ruined. Sounds callous, but so be it -- most of us aren't vegetarians either.
          • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @09:20PM (#56769282)

            One of the sheriffs in Illinois is arguing that if the state legalizes pot all the police dogs will have to be put down.

            If Illinois legalizes pot, maybe they won't need so many sheriffs . . . and they will have to be put down.

          • One of the sheriffs in Illinois is arguing that if the state legalizes pot all the police dogs will have to be put down. Not re-purposed or sent to retire with their handlers (like usually happens when they are no longer able to do their jobs). Euthanized. It's the "Think of the doggos!" approach to keeping pot illegal.

            I had a friend whose police dog got sick. The state decided not to treat it and instead put the dog down. The officer didn't have a say. Even if he wanted to pay for the treatment himself, it is not his dog, the dog is the property of the state. The dog got a full honors funeral paid for by the state but the state owns the dog not the officer. Even when the dog gets injured in the line of duty, many times they won't let the dog retire and live out their natural lives for 2 reasons. One is that the han

            • by EvilSS ( 557649 )
              That's sad and all, but police dogs are often retired and sent to live with their handlers.
          • One of the sheriffs in Illinois is arguing that if the state legalizes pot all the police dogs will have to be put down.

            BS. Detection dogs and patrol dogs are separate training programs. Detection dogs have not been trained to attack.

            • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

              One of the sheriffs in Illinois is arguing that if the state legalizes pot all the police dogs will have to be put down.

              BS. Detection dogs and patrol dogs are separate training programs. Detection dogs have not been trained to attack.

              Not BS. The Sheriff's argument was that they cannot retrain the dogs to remove pot from the list of things they will hit on (which is true). It's absurd to say they have to euthanize the dogs, but the dogs WOULD have to be removed from service, because the dog can't tell you what it found, only that it found something that it's trained to search for. Every drug dealer would just keep a small quantity of pot for a dog to smell, no probable cause for a search.

              • One of the sheriffs in Illinois is arguing that if the state legalizes pot all the police dogs will have to be put down.

                BS. Detection dogs and patrol dogs are separate training programs. Detection dogs have not been trained to attack.

                Not BS. The Sheriff's argument was that they cannot retrain the dogs to remove pot from the list of things they will hit on (which is true). It's absurd to say they have to euthanize the dogs, but the dogs WOULD have to be removed from service, because the dog can't tell you what it found, only that it found something that it's trained to search for. Every drug dealer would just keep a small quantity of pot for a dog to smell, no probable cause for a search.

                You misunderstand, I apologize for not being clear. The BS is that they have to be euthanized. My point is that detection dogs pose no more of a threat to the public than civilian dogs, that detection dogs have *not* been trained and conditioned to intimidate, threaten and bite people. Euthanizing dogs is something that the military had historically done to patrol dogs due to such training and/or actual combat experience. I believe the modern trend is for the military to attempt to re-train the dogs to be l

          • That's exactly the same argument that was used in the UK regarding the ban on fox hunting with dogs, some years ago. A few hunt organisers went on television to warn that their horses and dogs are working animals, and if there was no work they would be killed.

      • It doesn't matter. Drug dogs are for one purpose only: a scam the police and courts have agreed on in order to nullify the 4th Amendment. In the latest case to affirm this insanity, SCOTUS ignored the large body of evidence proving that these dogs have a ridiculously high false positive rate; they want to please their master, so if their master wants to search, they'll alert no matter what. In some tests, it's actually *worse* than random chance. So the accuracy of the retraining program doesn't matter one
  • "Put the criminal content on a small disk and no one will ever find it if I hide it."

    Also, it's a small disk and easy to lose and have some random person in your social circle find by accident.

    My money is on this being a very good investment for the police in the long run because most people are idiots and they'll never figure out the weakness in the quoted argument.

  • by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @07:43PM (#56768892)

    The dogs, they can sniff out the blue smoke before it escapes. Good dog!

    Seriously, what is the chemical they're looking for?

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Any chemical the K9 got a reward for in the past.
      Say the correct German word and a K9 unit will alert too.
      Great to search a car, van, truck in the USA as the K9 is constitution approved. The way the dog stands is like a fax machine and a search warrant.
      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        Say the correct German word and a K9 unit will alert too

        Ah, does that only work for sheppards? But seriously, some of the more enjoyable conversations I've had with people in other countries is about animal sounds...it's good to do over a few beers.

        • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
          Depends on who the PD got their k9 from. The ability to alert for "anything" is a great legal trick.
    • They're sniffing for triphenylphosphine oxide, which is found on all circuit boards, even microSD cards, and hydroxycyclohexyl phenyl ketone, found on CDs/DVDs/BluRays/Floppies. Link [techrepublic.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2018 @07:45PM (#56768902)

    X sniffing dogs mostly don't work. They're just probable cause on a leash. I'm not saying that dogs can't sniff some of this stuff. I'm saying most of the time, they're just used to get around the constitution by a zealous cop.

    • In this case they can also hold the throw down USB stick.
    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      And I'm saying that your full of shit. Sure, it happens, and I don't deny that. But "mostly doesn't work"...that's bullshit.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Almost everything that plugs into an outlet has integrated circuits and boards these days. If one wanted to hide something, hide it in "plain sniff" inside something innocuous like a dishwasher control panel or an LED light bulb...
  • Probable Cause (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday June 11, 2018 @07:57PM (#56768964)
    Doesn't matter what the dog sniffs. If they stick their noise in your belongings that establishes enough probable cause for a search. Might as well use a dousing rod.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I wonder if there's going to be a supply of pre-loaded "drop drives" for when the dogs find nothing.

  • Hide it in something that would mask the smell, if the other smell over-rides the smell of say an SD card no dog will find it. Hide it in the garlic powder or curry powder bottle.

  • ESD = ElectroStatic Discharge
  • I'm not surprised - I can easily smell electronic devices. I'm surprised only one in fifty dogs can

    Second, no one told these folks that ESD stands for Electro-Static Discharge?

    • I'm not surprised - I can easily smell electronic devices. I'm surprised only one in fifty dogs can

      It depends on the source of the dogs. At one end we have pound rescues, on the other end we have organizations that have bred their own highly trainable working dogs for nearly a hundred years, ex Seeing Eye guide dogs. I've raised supermarket mutts and pups from the Seeing Eye (they are fostered with families until 14 months of age when they begin guide dog training). I've had some great dogs from the former but the latter were truly exceptional and consistent in terms of intelligence, trainability, temper

  • Going to coat all of my thumb drives in liverwurst so the police dog eats the evidence...

  • So a flash drive can have extremely common silicone that's on most phone cases, steel casing around the USB that's on most phones and charging cables, flash memory which is in every phone, a small circuitboard that's in everything, and a plastic casing that everything is made out of. What exactly is unique about flash drives that they're supposed to be smelling?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      So a flash drive can have extremely common silicone that's on most phone cases, steel casing around the USB that's on most phones and charging cables, flash memory which is in every phone, a small circuitboard that's in everything, and a plastic casing that everything is made out of. What exactly is unique about flash drives that they're supposed to be smelling?

      Your abject guilt.

      Anything needing a sniffing is a guilty terrorporner. Or something.

    • Nothing is unique about it. The dogs sniff for electronics (TPPO on the circuit board) and/or storage media (HPK on CD/DVD/BR/Floppy). They will find any such device.
    • They're smelling chemicals on a PCB. Not silicone, silicon. And it seems that they don't mind having false positives.

  • I'm always losing thumb drives. There must be half a dozen of them in my house that I have no idea where they are. If I could hire one of these dogs to come by and find them all for me, that would be great!
  • If a dog chews up your SD card, the cops won't get much information off it

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Modern packet sniffers.

  • I use a USB stick with an micro SD card. Will they find the stick or the card?

  • I don't think these cops understand the will of the people. They seem incapable of learning. The only thing that will stop them is dis-empowerment and legal restrictions that lead prosecution in the courts with jail time.

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