Carol Vorderman's Internet Column: The Lapcops; YOU CAN'T HIDE YOUR COMPUTER CRIMES

Article excerpt

COULD your computer convict you of a crime?

It happened to Gary Glitter, who was jailed after he took a machine crammed with vile - and illegal - images into a High Street shop for servicing.

And it could happen to anyone stupid enough to search incriminating websites from their home PC.

Child pornography is not hard to find on the Net ... Glitter had amassed a huge collection of filth in the privacy of his own home and stored it on his hard drive.

What he did not realise is that just logging on to these unsavoury sites is a crime, punishable by imprisonment.

Now, encouraged by the conviction of Glitter last year, Hampshire police have set up a squad dedicated to tracking down paedophiles all over Britain by doing detective work on their hard disks.

"Children continue to be abused every time their picture appears on the Internet - potentially forever," says DC Tony Neate, one of Britain's first cybercops.

What many inquisitive Netsurfers do not realise is that their forays into cyberspace leave a footprint.

Visits to every address you've ever scanned - including porno sites which may only have been accessed briefly, or even accidentally - live forever in the History thrown up by your browser.

It's the same with those dubious e-mails you may wish you'd never sent, dissing your boss or passing on tips for tax fiddles to a friend.

Or setting up secret assignments, like Arden Atkinson of Barnsley, whose cheating was betrayed by a message she never suspected her husband would open.

"It was clear the e-mail was to a lover," says Bernie Atkinson, who discovered the woman he met through the Internet was NOT doing her Christmas shopping when she left home last month, but meeting another man she'd met on the Internet in Leicester.

Even if you delete your e-mails, you can never, never hide them from a savvy cybersleuth.

Like Tom Galligan in the US, who makes his living by investigating hard disks for incriminating evidence that has helped nail many a cheating husband.

"He thought he'd deleted everything," he chortles of the man whose reams of X-rated video clips he retrieved from the hidden depths of a computer.

"People don't get it. E-mail and computer files are the best-kept records of misdeeds yet."

Galligan's Rhode Island-based company, Electronic Evidence Recovery, is booming now that electronic communication has replaced mail and faxes.

For e-mail messages, like visits to websites, are impossible to permanently eradicate. When you "delete" them, you simply provide space for them to be overwritten, like re-recording over a programme you've just watched on your video. …