Sex Offender Thwarted By Google’s Email Scanning

Online privacy always opens the door for lots of debate. With all of the stories online about personal data being scanner and researched, companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter often get bad raps for the safety of online privacy. With that said, Google recently helped capture a sex offender by scanning the perpetrator’s Gmail account.

John Henry Skillern, a 41-year-old male of the Texas area, is no stranger to sexual child abuse. The felon was convicted in 1994 for 20 years after being found guilty of harsh sexual assault on an 8-year-old boy. More recently though, Skillern was found to have pornographic images of a minor girl on his email account. How did the authorities discover this information though? Thanks to Google’s somewhat controversial scanning of Gmail accounts, the search engine company discovered three pornographic images that Skillern was planning to send to a friend of his. On July 11, Webster authorities were tipped off by Google with the reported findings and in turn acquired a permit to search all of John Skillern’s electronics. On July 24, police went to the Skillern’s Houston home and found the three reported images on Skillern’s computer, just like Google had said. After he was charged with the crime of containing child pornography, Skillern was put into custody. The police statement that came out of this read that “After forensics were completed on evidence collected at the residence, the Webster Criminal Investigation Division filed one count of possession of child pornography and one count of promotion of child pornography on Skillern through the Harris County District Attorney’s office.”

When stories such as this one pop up on the news, it brings up even more debate on the topic of personal and private data online. Had Google not reported their findings to the Webster Police, Skillern may not have been caught in his illegal acts. There’s no doubt that it is a good thing that Google did what they did and reported this to the authorities, but it also raised the point of what’s really private with our online presence. Google’s always been a bit notorious for collecting and scanning ridiculous amounts of your information and data. However, you have to think if it is ethically right for Google, or any other online company, to be able to turn in any personal data they want to authorities or anyone else for that matter. It’s mostly expected now that we give up a lot of our personal information when signing up for online services, whether they be with Google, Facebook, etc.

Daniel Nettles, a detective for the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, said that “He was trying to get around getting caught with just keeping it inside of his e-mail. I would never be able to find that.” Although Google being able to use our information for such situations such as the one here can seem unsettling, it certainly is nice to hear the company using their collected information for good. While our privacy may not be so private anymore, if more stories like these pop up, it should make the privacy issue easier and easier to swallow.