Can you identify this phone thief?

Do you know this man? He stole a mobile phone from a man on the street near my flat in east London this morning. I took this picture just before he ran off. If you know him please dial 101 (in England) to be connected to police, and quote reference number CRIS 4620821/11.

Update: Image removed at police request -- they know who the guy is and don't want to spoil the lineup.

Man who stole mobile phone, Brunswick Place, EC1V 9, Hackney, London, UK


    1. It’s a Jedi from the past. Of course he needs a cell-phone. And he isn’t the thief you are looking for. You can go about your business. Move along… move along.

  1. Am I the only one to find this sort of internet vigilanteism slighty worrying? It reminds me of paediatricians being hounded as paedophiles.

    What if you just happened to look like this guy? Or someone just *thought* you looked like this guy (even when you didn’t)?

    1. Greg, there’s a bit of a difference between asking people to take the law into their own hands and asking people to ring the police non-emergency line.

      1. Yes! There is. BUT what if people DO take the law into their own hands (which they do) and GET IT WRONG? I know a dozen guys in London whom this facial profile fits … and none are criminals. All it takes is JUST ONE have-a-go hereo to fuck up.

        You can’t even tell if this guy has long hair or short hair! This is madness.

        1. You seem to be advocating not making an effort to catch criminals, because we might get it wrong.

          If that’s not it, perhaps you’d care to clarify.

          1. You hand the evidence to the police: not post it on-line for people to take the law into their own hands. Please. Think.

          2. Right, it’s not like the police ever circulate some sort of poster with photos of people that are wanted for crimes.  That would be irresponsible!

          3. And when the police do the exact same thing – post photos or, worse, sketches based on witness descriptions, and ask for citizen tips, this is somehow a completely different thing?

          1. No. The police are involved and have sufficient evidence to proceed with a photofit. In this country you are innocent until PROVEN guilty. Not under the onus of HAVING to prove innocence to ANYONE.

          2. Innocent until proven guilty is true in court, but what’s that got to do with police photofits? They don’t require proof of guilt. This is only about getting info to police, leads etc. Noone’s talking about convicting based on the above. At least I’m not.

          3. No because they have already gone through the process of being investigated by the police as a possible suspect.

            They have, one hopes taken witness accounts and scrutinised the backgrounds of the witnesses to make sure they haven’t got a prior-grudge.

            Witch trials used to work this way.

          4. Talk about hyperbole, witch trials were a farcical judicial system. This is about providing information for the police to follow up. We’re not talking about calling up the CPS here.

          5. You aren’t reading the words in context.

            If someone disliked someone else all they would have to do is post a picture of them on boing boing or some similar site and claim they were stealing a phone.

            That’s exactly what happened in the witch trials.

            People who dared to point how stupid that system was were also accused of being witches.

            Sure the OP is asking people to phone the police and should the police investigate that investigation alone could have a disruptive effect on the person’s life.

            The police check photographs and witness accounts before they put out calls for information.

          6. Thanks for presuming how I am and am not reading the words.  But the only way in which your analogy is even remotely applicable is if someone give info to the police and then that person or others are taken into custody and the CPS prosecute them and they are found guilty purely based upon the information given in this blog.

          7. I really cannot disagree with you because you’re shoehorning completely different examples and analogies in so there’s nothing else I can add. I’m also not sure exactly where I made any kind of presumption on the average person’s intelligence.

          8. If Mr Doctorow starts posting pictures of you and GregF, accusing you of being muggers, then your slightly hysterical witch trial analogy may have some basis in reality. Otherwise, I think it’s a bit of a stretch.

            Remember, this is not an anonymous allegation. It’s someone with a reputation trying to bring to justice someone he saw leaving the scene of a crime – a crime which involved a friend of his.

          9. I’m not a witch, I’m not a witch, 
            They dressed me up like this and this isn’t my nose. 
            This is a false one.

          10. “If someone disliked someone else all they would have to do is post a picture of them on boing boing or some similar site and claim they were stealing a phone.”

            That’s why it’s wrong to post a picture and accuse someone of a crime just because you dislike them.  But it’s also wrong to phone the police and give them a photo of a person and accuse that person of a crime, just because you dislike that person.

    2. No, Greg, you are not the only one. And it is with much relief that I find you took the trouble to post here, confirming that I’m not the only one. Bravo.

      1. Aye.

        By the way, I recognize this man! He’s a rival blogger and SF writer. Cory and he had just had some kind of confrontation before these photos were taken. I saw the whole thing!

        The previous paragraph is just made-up fiction. But do you get my point?

    3. So, posting a picture of a guy who has just been seen stealing a mobile phone and asking people to call the police of they see him is vigilantism? Are you stupid? So, if they thought he looked like the guy and they called the police, how is that different from any other pictures of alleged criminals that the police post and encourage people to call the police if they see that person so that the police can take action? I get that you’re all about civil liberties. That’s great. What about the civil liberties of the guy who had his phone stolen, and the guy who saw the guy who had his phone stolen and took a picture of the perpetrator? Do they have no recourse? And would it be better to just issue a description in text of this guy, and have a LOT MORE people mistaken for the *actual* perpetrator. Your logic is fsckn faulty, my friend. Faulty.

      1. “how is that different from any other pictures of alleged criminals that the police post and encourage people to call the police”

        The difference is: Cory isn’t the police!
        It’s as simple as that.

        Next time you’re standing at playground someone is posting a picture of you, tagging it with “paedophiliac”… seem’s ok to you?

        Or shouldn’t the police decide wether or not your picture is published, based on their findings?

        1. “Next time you’re standing at playground someone is posting a picture of you, tagging it with “paedophiliac”… seem’s ok to you?”

          If they had SEEN me do that, then I guess I’d have to live with that. Just like when someone SEES someone steal a phone, then they should do the right thing and try to help a victim get his phone back. LOGIC!

    1. The joke is this man didn’t get AT&T’s new mobile plan that would have offered him savings so good he would have only “thought” he was committing theft! 

  2. So, it’s *spelled* “please dial 101 (in the UK) to be connected to police,” but it’s *pronounced* “please take the law into your own hands.”

    Got it.

  3. The police get it wrong from time to time as well. 
    Plus, this is handing information to the police, it’s just a more efficient method.  Have you ever seen pictures of wanted people hanging up at the P.O.?  The police, FBI, whoever have always relied on tips from the public to catch criminals.  There is just a better technology being put to use here.

  4. I thought this website was supposed to stand up for civil liberties, not challenge them on amateur evidence and supposition. Jeez, this scares me.

    1. Except that it’s not. If some dude is stealing stuff from a a neighbor and I SEE it, then I’m a witness to a crime. If I snap a photo, that’s evidence. (Though this photo doesn’t show crime in progress, it’s still helpful to track him down for questioning). Report it to the police–they still have to 1.) find the guy, 2.) question and/or search him, 3.) charge him before he sees justice. 

      I don’t know about the UK, but in the US people suspected of crimes do have rights and they must be proven guilty first–based on evidence. (Be snarky if you want, but the fact is there are laws and the police still have procedures.)

      1. It’s not like he’s going to be beaten to a pulp for it, dude. The info will be passed on to the police.

  5. Imagine what it would be like if everyone just posted pictures of people they thought were thiefs.. This is not the way to do it Cory.. Just hand the picture to the officials , Im sure they’ll know what to do with it

  6. So what’s the problem with CCTV now? To be fair, you may not trust the government to only use CCTV images to catch actual criminals, whereas you do trust yourself to only post pictures of actual criminals to your personal blog, which just happens to have a huge international audience. And while I may trust CD more than the UK police, I can’t say I generally trust civilians with websites more than I trust the police, so civilian surveillance ought to be just as worrying as government surveillance, or more so.

  7. If this had been an emergency, don’t forget, that number has changed:
    ♪ 0118 999 881 999 119 725 … … 3 ♫

    1. Dear Sir stroke Madam. Fire, exclamation mark. Fire, exclamation mark. Help me, exclamation mark. 123 Carrendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best, Maurice Moss.

  8. This same approach has helped people recover laptops. I’m all for it. Most, if not all, police forces are over worked. Any reasonable civilian will not act in an untoward way with the ‘proof’ of a simple picture. For those arguing that innocent people might be harmed, the person harming them will be responsible for their own criminal negligence and acts. Simple. On top of that, I would argue that any person predisposed to violently pressing the matter over a proper or mistaken identity is a threat to others regardless, and blaming a publicly posted picture is hardly the right approach. Order through shame works. Period.

  9. How dare you take an interest in maintaining social order in your immediate neighborhood, Mr. Doctorow? Don’t you know you should leave society building/maintenance to the professionals?  These kind of actions could lead to other citizens looking out for each other — and we can’t have that can we?

    1. And how do you know what racial type I am? This is EXACTLY MY POINT. You have made an ASSUMPTION that is WRONG.

  10. I do hope this is some sort of civil liberties experiment and the chap in the picture is actually the originator of the post.

  11. Man…I do NOT understand petty theft from individuals like that. You need rent and are willing to do bad things? sell drugs or rob a couple of liquor stores. Because the other reasons for needing money badly can generally be solved by either going on the pogey or getting a job slinging coffee.

  12. This is not posting pictures of people Mr. Doctorow THINKS might a thief, Sancar. It’s posting a picture of an ACTUAL thief, to try to assist the police in making an identification.

    Nobody is going to be hanged for looking like this photo – if anyone is caught and charged, they will have a fair trial.

    There is no witch hunt. And no civil liberties are being infringed. Someone nicking phones in public has no legitimate expectation of privacy, after all.

    1. The man as far as we know hasn’t even been interviewed by the police yet so how do you KNOW he is an ACTUAL thief?

      Say he was a thief, this page could be used to argue he couldn’t get a fair trial as any potential Jury member could have read it.

      1. It’s very hard to find jurors in the UK that don’t read Boing Boing, it is true. Popularity can be a curse sometimes.

        1. It might be difficult for people to recall if they had read it or not which would throw almost any potential Jury member with an internet connection off the list.

          1. So if they don’t remember reading about him, why would it be a problem?

            And actually, if they arrest him, he’ll probably be on TV or in the newspaper, so anyone who reads or watches TV will have to be excluded.

            We’ll be importing our jurors from the remotest corners of the globe to convict this (alleged) fucker!

          2. Because his defense could claim he would not get a fair trial.

            Even if he was guilty it could be made impossible to assemble a jury, he could even have a better case for taking this website and OP to court than the person who had their phone stolen would have against him.

          3. Right, so why arrest anyone? There’s always some kind of publicity. 

            Do cops have to catch all criminals red-handed?

      2. Not sure why you think the police need to be involved before anyone can try to catch a thief. What sort of society would we have if everyone (apart from criminals) waited for permission from the authorities before doing the right or sensible thing.

        I hope you’re not going to go further, and suggest Mr Doctorow’s efforts to catch a thief should themselves be a crime. Wouldn’t that be tantamount (by your reasoning) to convening a lynch mob?

        1. Even private investigators require a license and defamation is a crime.
          If this is evidence the police are the only people who should sort this out, that’s how society works.
          If you want to live in a culture based on hearsay and the vendetta system get in a time machine.

          1. “…and defamation is a crime.”Not in England and Wales, it isn’t: the old commonlaw libel offences were abolished in 2010. The question of contempt of court is a bit more worrying. It’s safer to go with something more along the lines of “the police would like to speak to this man in connection with the incident”. Cory, IANAL but you might want to seek advice on that aspect of the story: UK-based journalists use these circumlocutions for a reason. 

      3. I believe if Doctorow snapped the photo right after watching the guy steal the phone, that makes it pretty obvious.

  13. How do any of you KNOW that it was HIS phone and he wasn’t just taking it back? Hmmmm? You DON’T. The guy who is accused of being the thief may be the innocent victim.

    You are all making groundless assumptions based on a rather obvious set of falacies. Do I need to spell it out?

          1. No, you are STATING as bald fact the photo IS ME. I challenge you to prove that you know it is. Have the courage of your convictions.

    1. …or maybe this guy is an undercover agent of KGB retrieving the instructions saved on the phone’s memory card from his handler to infiltrate the London chapter of Lulzsec. ..and the whole  thing is just a ruse to distract us!

  14. Mr. Doctorow’s post is a “civil liberties violation” in the same way that editing is censorship, i.e. it isn’t. 

    And Mr. Doctorow’s post is no more call for vigilantism than is the cry, “Stop! Thief!”, i.e. it isn’t.
    In similar circumstances, I would hope that my neighbors would act as Mr. Doctorow has.

  15. So for all you people out there who think that handng the Police evidence is all that it takes. Read this:
    The Police had the car’s details and the video, but claimed that they couldn’t pursue it.
    However, posting it up on the internet eventually got someone to come forwards and justice was eventually served.

    I fully support this. If you can get clear photographic evidence, don’t assume that the Police will actually do anything more than just hold it on file.

  16. Greg, you’re locked into a really strange way of framing the situation.
    I’d suggest a pause for reflection. You’ve raised your concern. Almost
    everyone thinks you are wrong. While this does not mean you are, it may
    suggest you need to look at the situation again.

    If you still feel this way after a few hours, see if you can
    explain why the rest of us are wrong. Until then, you’re generating a
    lot more heat than light….

      1. Disagreement and debate are fine.  Concern trolling and starting a flame war are not.

    1. “You’ve raised your concern. Almost everyone thinks you are wrong.”

      While I do agree with most of the posters in this thread, your statement above strikes as evidence of what we call an echo chamber.  Really?  Almost everyone?  I couldn’t find a website where the majority of posters agree with Greg?

  17. Obviously Cory saw the incident and actually knows that this guy is a thief. “But maybe he was just taking his phone back” LOL I wouldn’t worry too much about some innocent person being stitched up as the result of police run amok either. Just my judgement of probabilities. Slippery slope I don’t see much either. So whatever.

  18. Brian, this is not some anonymous allegation, or malicious rabble rousing. Mr Doctorow has put his name to this responsible attempt to identify the perpetrator of a crime he seems to have witnessed. It’s an effort to assist the police, and someone who has been robbed.

    Nobody is calling for vigilante action, any more than a police “wanted poster” or TV “crime reconstruction” is.

  19. This would never go to court: its already too exposed to public conjecture the court would throw it out.

    So this helps the victim and punishes the perpetrator, how exactly?

  20. Jezze. Cory posts here. It’s kind-of his blog. He witnessed the event. It qualifies as news. He’s asking people to HELP the police by dropping a dime. There is nothing immoral or unethical about the post.

    Eh, other people are saying this better than I.

    1. “He witnessed the event.”

      He saw it from his own perspective and interperetation. Did he also hear any exchange?

    2. If he witnessed something he should take the information to the police and the police only.

      Not post it up here.

      Sure there are problems with the police but that can only be tackled using the democratic process not by mobilising the boing boing irregulars.

      This is real life not a Steven Moffat script.

  21. I don’t like the kind of thinking this post drives me into…

    This isn’t a “Have U seen my cat Uncle Furry? Phone 123-456!” sign.
    This is a picture of a man. Who is incriminated of stealing a phone.
    By you, Cory! Not by the police. Or prosecution. Not even the victim.

    What next?
    Crowdsourcing police?

    Anyway: The hunt is on.

    I hope it’s an experiment for your next novel, Cory!
    If not, try Babelfish:
    “Der größte Lump im ganzen Land, das ist und bleibt der Denunziant”.

    You opened Pandora’s box. Kind of.

    Not so kind regards from Germany,

  22. Keep it up. Frankly, I’m starting to wonder why we arrest people at all. A potential juror could see a news item about a suspect who’s been arrested. Or they could see them being dragged into the police station. Or they could see them in cuffs and a prison jumpsuit at trial – how would that reflect on the suspect?!?!?!

  23. So you guys are telling me that in London if y’all called the police and identified this or any guy as your thief,
    that they would come and investigate over a CELL PHONE? BWA HA HA. Sorry but in L.A you can hardly get a cop to investigate your car. And I do agree with Greg. I do think this is petty. And shame on the guy who tried to call the race card just because someone said something you disagreed with. Low low low

    1. Leads? Yeah sure, I’ll just check with the boys
      down at the crime lab. They’ve got four more detectives working on the case.
      They got us working in shifts! Leads!?

  24. Actually, if you read the description on flickr, Cory doesn’t say that he saw the guy steal the phone, just that his friends asserted the subject had. 

  25. I belong to a yahoo group for my neighborhood where all kinds of announcements relating to our tiny, tiny little corner of the world are posted daily. People report burglaries, discuss police response, alert one another to suspicious door-to-door “salesmen,” and organize neighborhood watch activities. Sometimes the conversation gets heated, people argue, concerns about profiling and vigilante justice are raised. But, for the most part, it feels like the community is coming together to protect itself from a tidal wave of property crime that has hit our hood. Although I don’t always agree with the tone and tenor of the comments posted, I feel like a local yahoo group is the appropriate venue for posting and discussing these issues of local concern. Posting notice of burglary on an international blog seems like an odd choice. And believe me, I’m used to some odd choices around here! Still, this post stands out as particularly odd, and awfully petty.  

  26. I’m going to play devil’s advocate to explain what I think Greg F is trying to say, even though his argument is starting to sound a little hysterical.

    Suppose that the guy in the photo is innocent. He could have been snatching back his own phone, say, or the photographer could have mis-seen. It’s not impossible.

    Now, you say “well, Cory’s just asking people to phone the police. If he’s innocent, then the police will sort it out. All will be good.”

    But a phone call to the police is not the only repercussion of posting a photo like this to a website potentially visited by millions of people. The man’s friends could see this. His local bartender will recognize him and think he’s a thief. The man’s work could see this. He could get fired from work.

    Can’t you imagine an almost identical article being posted on BB from the other side?

    A man was photographed in a park by someone who was certain she saw him molesting a child. The woman posted it online, on a website visited by thousands, asking people just to call the cops if they knew him. When the police finally got involved, they quickly ascertained that it was his son, but it was too late. “My life has been ruined,” said the man. “I’m not allowed in the park anymore by the other parents. My son’s teacher phoned social services, and won’t let me pick him up. My wife’s parents told her to divorce me. No one even cares when I try to tell them the police found me innocent.”

    Maybe a little hyperbolic, but the point is that posting a photo online of someone and accusing them of a crime is a form of vigilantism, whether or not you’re just telling readers to phone the cops, because of the repercussions of the act of showing the photo to tens of thousands of people and telling them that the man depicted is a criminal.

    1. Just playing Devils’ Advocate here, as well —

      Substitute “child” for “cellphone”, and see what kind of conundrum is
      created. Do you just let a suspect get away because it’s “not cool” to
      post an Amber Alert?
      I know a child is a more important matter, but it does drive home my point. I mean, does value really make the difference?

      Please don’t attack me personally. I’m neutral on this issue.

      1. No, you’d let the kidnapper enjoy his prize because you’re afraid of getting sued by concern trolls. 

      2. Ummm… it does not drive home your point. A child is in no way comparible to a cellphone. And yes if its a kid I would employ any and all means to retrieve them. You must not have kids or you would never in a million years make such an inane comparison. I would beg steal lie cheat or commit murder to protect my child. After the fact y’all can debate whether or not I should go to jail.

        1. The difference in value vs. the “right” to pursue a suspect is exactly what I was talking about.

          “So you guys are telling me that in London if y’all called the police and identified this or any guy as your thief, that
          they would come and investigate over a CELL PHONE? BWA HA HA. Sorry but
          in L.A you can hardly get a cop to investigate your car. And I do agree
          with Greg. I do think this is petty.”

          “A child is in no way
          comparible to a cellphone. And yes if its a kid I would employ any and
          all means to retrieve them. You must not have kids or you would never
          in a million years make such an inane comparison. I would beg steal lie
          cheat or commit murder to protect my child. After the fact y’all can
          debate whether or not I should go to jail.”

          Post an image over a stolen cellphone, you’re in the wrong. Murder someone over a kidnaping, just worry about it later in court. Okay, I get it.

  27. I have really liked this blog for critically talking about increasing orwellianism, policing etc. I feel like posting this photo and asking to have the police called on him if he is seen is totally inappropriate on this blog. What exactly do you want this to achieve?  Arrest the guy for a cell-phone which you will probably never see again? What’s the point?

  28. To those wishing to dismiss the fella’s action by minimizing the crime, do you honestly believe this is the only time he’s stolen something?  

    Guys like this operate along a continuum, and small stuff adds up.  For the person losing the device (and whatever else he’s taken in the past) it matters a lot.

    I refer you to these characters:

  29. Quite a lot of this has to do with Cory’s credibility as a blogger. Personally I’ve not seen anything posted here with malicious intent so I’m inclined to believe him.

    The fact is that Cory is a private citizen and he is entitled to do post what, where he likes. The guy in the picture is also entitled to seek damages, in proportion to the damage done to his reputation, from Cory if he thinks what he has posted is slanderous.

    Those who say “You didnt see what happened man, YOU WEREN’T THERE” are fully entitled to not do anything if they see this guy but I think Cory is a reasonable guy asking a reasonable thing. If this were a less liberal more reactionary website then it would be different.

    1. People are allowed to do what that want within the law.

      That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t think about the possible consequences first.


    What next..benefit fraudsters?

    1. Dear Boing Boing, this person is a benefit fraudster.If you happen to work in the Camden Town benefit office, please go round and spy on him.

  31. Wow – got a picture of a bad guy right after the crime!  You know, if only there were cameras like this all over London, I bet they’d catch just about every criminal.

  32. Greg and others:  I’ve removed some of the more insulting and accusatory comments.  You’ve made your point.  Please give it a rest.

    1. The only accusatory comments I read were people jesting that Greg stole the phone and the main article itself.
      Moderation begins at home.

      1. They only did so because Greg misread a comment. He thought I would have made that accusation, but I never did. (Check it if you want.) Instead of taking the time, he made some assumptions. It’s called teasing and he deserved it for taking that damn phone.

  33. But look at this crocodile from russia. He has a birthday and it rains, everything’s is very wet. But he celebrates it anyway, is happy and plays the harmonica, because a birthday is just once a year.

  34. For the folks who think Cory may have witnessed a completely innocent interaction (or mixed up the perp & the victim), note that there is a case number in his posting. So presumably Cory spoke to the victim and/or police about the incident.

    1. “So presumably Cory spoke to the victim and/or police about the incident.”

      And then the police told Cory it’s ok to publish the photo on his blog?
      Maybe he then should’ve posted a link to the polices website where alleged criminals are listed…

      Sorry, this article (with all of its pro comments) is a backstep to the dark ages of civilisation.
      20000 years of history of civilised humanity down the drain.

      1. You’re making a strawman argument–the conclusion you’re making on my behalf was not at all my point.

        1. Sorry, but what I understood was that this post is ok, as long as Cory spoke to the police.
          And in my opinion this isn’t…

          I didn’t want to offend.


          Ah, maybe this one:
          “Sorry, this post (with all of its pro comments) is a backstep to the dark ages of civilisation.”
          With “post” I didn’t mean your comment but Corys article.

          1. My point was that there were a number of posts that were (to my mind, a bit hysterically) postulating the fact that there had been no crime (or that the crime had been the reverse). My point was that this is extremely unlikely since Cory knows enough details about it to have the case number. 

            The idea that the above point means everything is okay comes from you. Personally, I think it is a very interesting & gray issue–I do not think the ethics are a clear as some folks think. 

  35. Cory this may be a little over the top being you reach so many people.  However if you lived in my neighborhood and posted pictures of known petty thieves, I’d love you for it.  My neighbor has been mugged on my block, my boyfriend’s car was broken into for about 75 cents, and somebody stole my lampost!  I hate petty criminals!! 

  36. I think that bringing up Cory’s posts about CCTV is a stretch. There is a big difference between constant surveillance and just happening to have a camera or cellphone within reach. If it’s simply a camera issue, then what if I, a portrait artist, witnessed a crime being committed? I could draw you a decent sketch in less than a half hour.

    Once again, neutral about the incident. I’m keeping my statements to what’s occurring in this thread.

    1. Quite. The problem with CCTV is not that it might inadvertantly capture a crime in progress, or someone fleeing the scene of a crime, as Mr Doctorow apparently did. The problem with CCTV is that it captures people all the rest of the time, and can be used abusively.

    2. So it’s OK to have a camera on hand to photograph a crime, but only if it’s by pure happenstance?

      1. To my knowledge, *as long as the photographer is not acting in a supporting role to the suspect(s)*, I’ve never heard of anyone being arrested for capturing a crime in progress (unless the crime is being committed by the police*). Do you have evidence to the contrary?

        What about news agencies with video cameras, especially the ones who follow stolen-car chases?

        Edit has been made*

        1. Wha?  I think you misunderstood my post.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with photographing a crime in progress.

          1. Okay, the question mark at the end made it seem as if you were questioning my statement.

            Relating to your incident, it sounds like the policeman knew as much as I do, that most police sketch artists suck, and witness accounts often differ. He was probably watching to see if you’d give off a “tell” as he questioned you.

          2. Well, I was questioning part of your statement, but not the part you addressed.  You seemed to say that it was OK to capture an image of a crime in progress, but only if you just happened to be in the right place at the, em, wrong time.  And that actually is a big part of the debate about police cameras:  supporters (like myself) see them as an effort to capture images of crimes in areas where crimes tend to occur, while detractors tend to focus on the potential for abuse.  I see very little difference between cameras mounted on every other light post, and a policeman on every corner with a camera in his hands.  The police are allowed to be in public and to watch what happens in public, so why not let them watch remotely?

          3. I don’t have much of a problem with police cameras, as long as there
            isn’t saturation to the point of ridiculousness* and they’re generally
            posted where crime rates warrant it. On the other hand, I also feel that
            there needs to be more transparency, possibly with a public watchdog
            group observing for what use the police are actually using the

            A healthy balance needs to be struck, in my opinion. I’d like a camera hovering over the bicycle rack or on the storefront, but not poking into my bedroom window.


      2. It’s a bit of a leap from “I took a picture of some guy who ripped something off from a friend – know who he is?” to “Big Brother is Watching You”

      3. I think it’s more “it’s OK to have a camera to record a crime, but only if it’s not part of a network of such cameras connected to a biometric face-matching database managed by unelected officials” or something.

        Crowdsourced photography is good and to be protected; government surveillance is bad. But I’m pre-morning-coffee and can’t lucidly explain the difference.

        1. “Crowdsourced photography is good and to be protected; government surveillance is bad. But I’m pre-morning-coffee and can’t lucidly explain the difference.”

          I can’t speak for you, but try this:  “I trust some dude walking down the street with a camera, but I don’t trust the same dude in a uniform with a monitor.”

          1. Scratcheee, I honestly can’t tell if you are being sincere or sarcastic. Personally I can’t even sort out my feelings about government surveillance vs civilian surveillance, let alone rational justification for either. I do think there needs to be a sharp distinction between civilian surveillance of other civilians vs civilian surveillance of government. The government is empowered by us and accountable to us, and has no right to privacy, but rather a need for transparency. Cell cameras everywhere trained on every cop and publishing every incident internationally is a good thing, IMO. Not so sure about applying that to everyone, or even everyone suspected of a crime.

          2. Zebbart, I appreciate the response.  I’m being kinda sarcastic, but I intended to make my position clear.  I don’t think there’s much difference between a citizen with a camera and a police officer with a camera (even if it’s mounted on a pole.)  My personal opinion.  Obviously a large percentage of people in this forum would probably disagree with me.  I think where I would disagree with those people is not in the utter impropriety of abusive surveillance, but in the belief that there is a big difference between the ability to abuse and the actual practice of abuse.

            To bring it back to the topic at hand, I don’t have any problem with this post of Cory’s.  And a careful reading of the posts shows that many people who say they DO have a problem with it are actually taking offense with a hypothetical version of Cory’s actions which involve someone abusing an ability to take a photograph and show it to a lot of people.  The ability to carry out such abuse is not the same as the actual carrying out of such abuse.  Again, my personal opinion.

    1. That was great. Made my morning!

      And how did you deal with the legal ramifications? Are you still fighting libel lawsuits for besmirching a thug’s good name?

      1. Dumb little thug is dumb. His lawyer, on the other hand, had him plead guilty when he was brought to trial.

        The legal ramifications were that I was considered a ‘victim’. As I was never subpoenaed to testify, I assume that the guilty plea was prearranged, based upon the video.

        The cops at the police station just could not stop grinning as they watched the video. Several of the officers actually thanked me for getting so involved.

  37. Settle down, folks. Don’t you know there are tv shows pursuing the same strategy? And that’s a long-standing and widely accepted practice, though usually carried out in close contact with the police.

    In the news today: a Dutch tv show asking viewers for clues is highly effective [Dutch], 42% of cases leading to arrests.

  38. Without citizen involvement in the process, law enforcement will simply not happen in the vast majority of instances.  This is a large part of the reason why only a small percentage of burglaries, robberies and assaults ever result in an arrest; there are usually people who know the identity of the perpetrator, but they usually do nothing and/or say nothing, for a variety of bad reasons.  When you have direct knowledge of the commission of a crime, and the means at your disposal to accurately convey the message that it took place and that there is a specific person of interest whose location needs to be made known to the authorities, failing to do so is aiding and abetting in the commission of the crime.  Cory has a venue in which to disseminate the message; the rest of us must make do with simply calling the police – and most of us still do nothing.  I will allow that for the minor things – those that can’t be enforced except on direct knowledge of the offence by an officer (locally known as Class C Misdemeanors here in Texas) – it is pointless to bother in any event; for assaults, robberies, and other felonies and serious matters, this is demonstrably not the case.

    I salute Cory’s action.  I consider it the best, measured response under the circumstances.

    1. Yes but public assistance to law enforcement should always start (when possible) with the official police.

      Not on a website like this one.

        1. Yes and waiting for them to do background checks before they officially put the picture out for a request for information.

  39. If the seriously proposed policy of allowing internet petitions to force debates in the Commons brings back the death penalty Zeus help us all against this sort of mob justice.

    1. “Mob justice?”  You’re….trolling, right?   Are there travelling kangaroo courts in the UK these days, trying people ad hoc on street corners, stringing them up after a 5-minute trial? Is there some call for such things?

      It’s vigilantism to say “Hey, I saw this guy who apparently stole a friend’s cell.  Here’s a photo I took of him.  If you know who he is call the police”?  Really? 

      Is there any crime which you think *would* merit this sort of action? Say the man in question had…I dunno…knifed Cory’s friend. Would that be severe enough to merit a crowd-sourced suspect identification?

  40. Of course, this is just a blog post which is not legally binding. Unless proposition 304 passes, and we all pray it will.

  41. Can we draw a link between this story and the one about the old man in the park who was taking pictures of his grandson??     

    1. “Can we draw a link between this story and the one about the old man in the park who was taking pictures of his grandson??”

      I don’t think so. Photographs were taken. Not the child.

  42. Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.

  43. I parse it thusly:  Cory has earned his cred.  If he says/asks something here, i am highly inclined to take it on face value.  I trust his judgement sufficiently to trust that he’s not engaging in some sort of tomfoolery that would endanger the wellbeing of a real-world innocent man. If he says ‘phone thief” that’s good enough for me.  Ergo: it’s a very clever but harmless trap, or much much more likely,  it’s a straight-up request for help.  

    Interestingly (or not) there is just this week a  serious proposal offered up in chicago to use anonymized citizen video+ facial recognition for crime fighting, submitters get a bounty if their material leads to a citation or conviction.  

    The future, you’re soaking in it.

    1. I’m with Betatron: I’ve read Cory’s column and his work for years. I’ve met him after a talk or two and trust him sufficiently. In other words, he’s got the whuffie. Two other things make the story as he published it on flickr more credible. (BTW, did anyone else read it). 

      “I was coming around the corner this morning with my daughter when I saw some friends, apparently arguing with two men. One of my friends was on the phone. I asked if they were OK and they said that this guy had stolen the other guy’s phone. ”

      He was walking with his daughter. I know Cory adores his daughter and would probably avoid a situation where she would come to harm. Also – the victim was a friend of his. Or a friend of a friend. 

      Based on that, if I recognized the guy, I’d tell the police who he was. Let the police and lawyers sort the rest out. 

  44. So how is this different than giving a detailed written description of the person?  In fact, look up info on the sanctity of eyewitness accounts and see how often they get it wrong–at least the pic is an unadulterated image (no CS4, right Cory?) that offers info on finding this person regardless of how deep their involvement goes.


    – citizen justice ALWAYS equates to vigilantism, ergo, this post is BAD and INAPPROPRIATE.  Leave it to the police, ALWAYS.

    – citizen justice SOMETIMES does not equate to vigilantism, ergo this post is GOOD, or at least POSSIBLY APPROPRIATE.  The police should be involved.
    – Mr. Doctorow is credible, intelligent, and close to the circumstances, and hence MAY be the best qualified to judge if this post is appropriate.  MAYBE.

    – nobody stepping in with VIGILANTISM GOOD and CITIZEN MOB RULE yet?


    – a few straw men about pedophiles
    – a few straw men about kidnapping
    – two or three trolls whacking a beehive, have not much to do today.
    Perfect, another day on the internet.

    1. If my post was the one you feel set up a straw man, it should be noted that I was not presenting an argument, but rather raising a question* for further discussion (does the value of the theft make a difference in whether it is fair to post “have you seen this man/woman” images?). If my post was not the one you meant, please disregard.

      *not the same as begging the question

      1. Not targeting a specific post of yours.  The discussion deserves to be had, it’s an important topic to address, and it *should* be engaging.  I am just discouraged how unspecified legions take up their corners early on (in this and any number of other arguments) and refuse to recognize that absolute positions do not cover the nuance of real world circumstance, always.

        I’m all for presenting some alternate examples with modified circumstances to reveal the flaws in the troll’s arguments, however futile.

      2. That’s a really good question. Does the value of the item make a difference? I don’t think it does. Had the man kicked in a door and taken thousands of dollars in goods, I’d still think this was the wrong venue for reporting the crime. The value of the item isn’t the issue, for me. The issue is using an international megaphone to report a hyperlocal crime.  It seems like an unwise and irrational move, but when we are the victims of crime, emotion usually takes over and we act irrationally, which is understandable. (That’s why it is dangerous to draft legislation, or take the law into our own hands, in the heated aftermath of a crime. Better to make these decisions in a calm, considered, sober state of mind.)

        1. I see your point, and raise you another question…

          Perhaps going to an international megaphone was overkill, but what about going to the internet, “period”?
          Is it possible that you’re more likely to find responses on a hyperlocal internet website over going around and posting flyers hours later (if that’s even allowed in that particular neighborhood)?

          EDIT: I don’t know about this question now. I doubt that many people spend much time on hyperlocal websites as compared to the general, popular ones we all like to frequent.

  46. I’m not against publishing photos of thieves, since I am against thievery. However, I did wake up one morning in Montreal many years ago to find  home-made wanted posters plastered all around town that had a hand-drawn picture that looked very much like me, apparently my doppelgänger. It freaked me out. I must admit I took down the posters I came across…probably not the right thing to do in retrospect, but at the time it seemed like the most convenient course of action.

    1. I was once formally questioned in a broad sweep relating to a crime that had taken place in a crowded area.  The investigator laid a sketch on the table and asked me if the person looked familiar.  It looked just like me!  I told him I thought it looked like me, and he sorta did a double take and agreed.  But apparently he had other information and knew it couldn’t have been me.

    2. Near my neighborhood in Japan once, some posters appeared for a guy who was a serial offender at “kekkon sagi”. This is where you pretend you are going to marry a girl to get into her confidence, borrow money, sleep with her, etc., then take off suddenly.

      1. So, you need a permit for kekkon sagi? I mean, that whole scenario seems . . . common, and sometimes is called “dating.”

  47. Perhaps the cries of vigilanteism could be solved by having the caption read something like: “wanted in connection with a cell phone theft.”  Generally, news and police reports don’t say for a fact that a person committed a crime until they are convicted. Rather, at its strongest they say that a person is suspected of a crime.  While, Cory doubtless saw it happen, and trusts the word of the person who’s cell phone was taken, it would suck in the more general case to see your face plastered across the internet as a thief, if you weren’t.  ( oh, and no: I don’t know him. )

  48. I’ve read this site and Cory’s other work for long enough to have a fairly implicit trust that what he says is true, or at the very least the truth so far as he’s aware of it at the time, and i’m sure that Cory trusts his friend who’s phone was stolen too.  I’m sure that Cory is absolutely correct, and this man is a thief who stole a phone from his friend.

    But what if he’s wrong?  And what about all of the other circumstances that could follow on from that…what if this man’s boss reads BB?  Or his family?  Or his social services officer deciding if he’s fit to get visitation rights for his kids?  A potential employer?  etc, etc, etc…

    I absolutely appreciate why Cory’s posted it, i’ve had things stolen from me before (and for info, you get a reference number from the police when you report a crime – it doesn’t mean they’ve confirmed that it happened, have done any investigation, have confirmed the phone is even gone, etc.  It’s primary function, assuming there’s no further evidence, is to be given to your insurance provider to prove you reported it), and i’d certainly like to have done something similar if i had a picture of whoever did it, but it grates when it’s posted here, for me.

    Somebody’s already posted a link to the article a few days ago where a man was reported to the police for taking pictures in the park by a woman who said he ran away when she confronted him.  The man later called in to police to say he’d just been taking pictures of his son and he didn’t run away at all.  I appreciate that piece was included as a part of the on-going ‘hysteria over adults playing with their kids’ theme, but if you strip back the alleged crimes to leave the series of events, the only difference is the point of view the stories are told from.

  49. This is the second time in a year that this flavour of moral dilemma has popped onto my radar. The first time was over facebook and tumblr crowd-sourced identification of people in Vancouver hockey riot photos.

    Is citizen identification of alleged criminals destined to become a new standard ethical dilemma?

  50. Something tells me if this man was a young and white, not obviously part of any oppressed class, this conversation would have gone quite differently.

    1. True. Nobody cared about protecting the white ‘thug’ in the video posted earlier. We just laughed at him.

  51. Let’s be careful folks. there are people out there less educated and less middle class than us prepared to take the law into their own hands.

    ….that said, keep ’em peeled.

  52. I don’t know, the posting made me feel surprised and uncomfortable.  Let’s just say for argument sake, a BBer stops this guy, rather than call the cops, and gets hurt as a result.  I think Cory, and many in the BB community, would be devastated.

    Also, I am curious with how the cops would feel about the posting, or the British version of the ACLU would too.

  53. I’m sure the police are devoting all their resources to investigating this cell-phone theft.  Now that the report has been filed, all we good citizens must stay out of their way and only do as we are told.  In this way, justice will be served, as it always is.  

    Remember, citizens, when you are witness to a crime, tell the authorities, and no one else!  You must take no action that has not been sanctioned by the police!   The authorities will always act in a fair and just fashion, and no crime ever goes un-investigated.  If a vigilante publication like the one above reaches citizens such as yourselves, you will become vigilantes by association, and engage in a witch hunt that destroys the lives of the innocent!

  54. One issue with this is that the poster is posting a picture to the entire world, and not to a select group whom they actually think may know who it is. I feel it is an inappropriate use of the power of the poster. I may feel differently tomorrow.

  55. It is an ancient axiom in the military that the man on the spot is presumed to know more about the situation than some rear echelon motherfucker.

    Cory was the man on the spot.

    As for everyone claiming to know more about the situation who weren’t there, your REMF medals are in the mail.

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