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UK police no idea about the Net

Even if they got RIP powers, they wouldn't know what to do with them

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Following on from our story about runaway maths prodigy Sufiah Yusof yesterday, you'll be pleased to know she's been found and she's not returning home.

Two plain-clothes officers stopped her as she entered the Click 'n Link Internet cafe in Bournemouth and persuaded her to leave with them. She is now in social services care and refusing to go home. According to the owner of the cafe, Sufiah had been in there every morning for about a week, sending emails. We presume he didn't recognise her.

So well done the police. The only lead they had to go on was an email that Sufiah sent to her parents a few days ago, but they managed to track her down and now everything is okay. More than one newspaper today has explained (poorly) how any email carries the IP address with it and then the IP can be used to find the real-world location of the PC.

Except, scouring through all the comments that the police have made concerning the case, not once have they mentioned exactly how they found her. You'd think that if they had tracked her through the email, they would say "we tracked her through her email". But no, nothing. What we have instead is vague talk about tip-offs and police work.

Superintendent Dave McWhirter said: "A lot of excellent work has been put in over the last few days and it is through this excellent work that she has been found." This, to us, cuts out a possible email tracking. "Excellent work" to a police officer means bobbies on the beat, traditional skills kinda work. An email track would also require about 30 seconds of excellent work.

But Sufiah is a smart cookie you may say. She'd have pushed it through a proxy, disguising the path. Quite possibly. But then according to our hacking expert Tommy C. Greene, unless she had downloaded some specific software to hide the email, some anonymisers can be worked through with a bit of know-how. She was in an internet café, so downloading is somewhat unlikely.

How did they find her? There's been a jaded reference to the fact that she "may have worked in a Bournemouth hotel last week". To us, this means hotel owner saw her pic in the paper, called the police and the police then went around every Internet café in Bournemouth with a picture of her, asking questions. Now that's excellent police work.

What does this mean? It means that our police forces are hopelessly inept when it comes to applying detective work to modern communications. Is this important? Yes, when it takes a week to find a 15-year-old girl when she could have been found days earlier. And if they can't track one email, what faith can we have in their capturing the professional criminals to whom modern technology is a huge wall to hide behind? We are not impressed.

Incidentally, a few more details on Sufiah's interesting father, Farooq. He is a 43-year-old mathematician, he has taught all of his six kids at home, and home is directly opposite Warwick University - where two of the kids are currently studying. He's still convinced that the Sufiah email was written "under the influence of a third party". He is a devout Muslim. His six-year-old daughter is just taking her A-level maths exam. He can't understand why Sufiah left home. Nor can we come to think of it. ®

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