Bring your Own Device (BYOD) may be all over the news these days but there are still a large number of people who are given a computer by their employer, either to use in the office or to take on the road. Whilst it might be nice to think that the device is then only used for work purposes it is, however, far more likely to be used for personal use too.
That was very much the case for one family in Long Island who subsequently received a visit from half a dozen agents from the joint terrorism task force who asked the husband of Michele Catalano, if she, her husband and son were involved in terrorism. Why? Because of their Google search history.
A combination of otherwise innocuous searches obviously got someone thinking – “I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack.” said Catalano on Medium.com. And, with the recent Boston bombings, her son had, “read a CNN piece about how bomb making instructions are readily available on the internet.”
Later, when Catalano was at work, her husband, “looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.”
The agents then asked her husband whether he had any bombs in the house, whether he owned a pressure cooker and had he ever researched how to make a pressure cooker bomb.
The agents did not conduct a full search of the house and didn’t even ask to look at any computers. They left some 45 minutes later, saying that they perform such visits around 100 times per week.
An update to Catalano’s original post shows that the data the agents acted upon did not come via surveillance of their personal computers but from a tip-off after searches the husband performed on his work’s machine. It seems that his employer was, perhaps, being overly vigilant in the face of the perceived increased threat of terrorism.
Whether the employer was right to make such a big deal of searches on one of their computers is a matter of opinion but two things are certain here. Firstly, Michele Catalano won’t ever buy a pressure cooker online again, “All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online. I’m scared. And not of the right things.” And, secondly, you really should think twice before using the computing devices at work for anything other than your job.