By Paul Rubin
For the record, we subscribe to the time-worn journalistic adage that information is power, and we also love to check up on people we have in our sights--or not. So when a buddy from Virginia who works in the security industry forwarded us the link to Felonspy.com, we jumped right on it.
The cover tease on the site started with a proverbial bang:
"Safety starts with good information, even if it ends with a loaded .44 caliber pistol. While FelonSpy.com can’t help you get a gun, we can certainly help you figure out which direction to point it in.
"Our patented Felon Search technology mines data from across the nation, from the Web and otherwise, and combines it into a single, easy to use interface. Whether you’re checking up on your own neighbors or trying to find out if that hotel you’ve been eyeing is in a safe place, we can help.
"Simply type in the desired address, click enter and let your new knowledge be your peace of mind."
So we did. Naturally, it was our very own home address, in a seemingly benign neighborhood on the Phoenix/Scottsdale border.
According to Felon Spy, a 45-year-old gentleman with the last name of Harrington resides right down the street, despite his alleged "Convictions Promoting a Sexual Performance by a Child."
Also within spitting distance--a 70-year-old man once convicted of "Assault In the Second Degree."
The claims sounded odd to those of us who spend more time reading Title 13 (the Criminal Code) of the Arizona laws than the front page of the Arizona Republic.
But despite our growing suspicions about the bona fides of FelonSpy, it still was a hoot fooling around on the site with this address and that.
However, what cinched it for us was when we punched in a street just north of New Times' offices at 12th Street and Jefferson in, um, beautiful downtown Phoenix. We personally know at least half a dozen felons who regularly hang on this street, and suspect there are as many criminals living in the area per-square-foot as any other in the Valley -- or in the Western World!
Not according to Felon Spy, which has the street (let's keep its name a secret, except to say it is named after a U.S. president) clean as a whistle--not a convicted criminal in sight.
Upon further review, we re-examined the Web site for clues as to its real agenda.
Under the "WHO WE TRACK" section on FelonSpy, someone wrote, "You have the right to know who your neighbors are. We hope to track persons accused of crimes but acquitted...but at this time we do not have sufficient funding to expand our database that far. Ask too many questions and who knows, we might be tracking you next."
It was time to drop a line to FelonSpy's Webmaster, who responded promptly, though he/she chose to maintain anonymity:
"The idea came to me because I was thinking I would push peoples' buttons with the idea of `Big Brother' and people intruding on their privacy and so on. The intention is that people look... freak out, then laugh. Instead, people are trying get us to add people to the database, and [are] all too happy to snitch on their neighbors that "weren't listed but should be."
The Webmaster contined, "We've done interviews with media under the assumption that the site was real, although we never stated that it was or should be trusted...We had a deputy police chief in Rhode Island say he [has mentioned] the site on the evening news...He didn't even realize he was endorsing a fake site that offers to show you which way to point your .44."
He/she concluded, "People are dumb... and seem to getting dumber. The media is in a perverse race to the bottom to compete in a 24-hour news cycle, and the new era of infotainment and reporting has been replaced by absurd Benny Hill-type skits pretending to be news and reporting an obvious fake site and where writers, reporters and producers can all team up and look at something so absurd (and technically/legally impossible) and decide, `Hey, this is a great idea... Let's have this story ready by 6. We have a deadline and the mob needs to be entertained.'"
Not that we would ever fall prey to such nonsense.