Etsy Post Leads to Arrest of Cop Car Arson Suspect in Philly: eDiscovery and Data Privacy Trends

During the George Floyd protests in Philadelphia last month, television news helicopters captured footage of a masked woman with a peace sign tattoo and wearing a light blue T-shirt setting a police SUV on fire.  Thanks in part to an Etsy review and a LinkedIn profile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested a suspect in the case.

According to ArsTechnica (Masked arsonist might’ve gotten away with it if she hadn’t left Etsy review, written by Jon Brodkin), the keys to tracking down the suspect ended up being a tattoo and an Etsy review the alleged arsonist had left for a T-shirt she was wearing at the scene of the crime, according to the FBI.

The alleged arsonist—identified by the FBI as Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal, 33—was wearing a mask, goggles, fire-resistant gloves, and a T-shirt with the slogan “Keep the immigrants, deport the racists” when her crime was captured live on an aerial news feed from a helicopter, FBI Special Agent Joseph Carpenter wrote in an affidavit filed Monday in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. After an investigation, she was arrested and charged with arson of two police vehicles. She appeared in federal court on Tuesday, and the government said it “will be filing a motion for the defendant to be detained pending trial.”

Even with video and photos, the FBI wasn’t yet able to identify the suspect because her face wasn’t visible. But the T-shirt she wore was unique and ultimately determined by the FBI to only be sold on Etsy, so FBI agents read the reviews on the seller’s Etsy page to see if anyone from the Philadelphia area had purchased it.  They soon found a five-star review for it from a username (“alleycatlore”) in Philly. That username led them to another one on the online fashion marketplace Poshmark with a display name of “lore-elisabeth,” which then turned up “a LinkedIn profile for an individual matching the name ‘Lore Elisabeth’ who appeared to be employed as a massage therapist with a company that provides massage therapy services.”

Pictures of the alleged arsonist showed a tattoo of a peace sign on her right forearm, and that tattoo was visible in a four-year-old video of Lore Elisabeth performing a massage on her business’s website. The website had a phone number for Lore Elisabeth, and Carpenter said the FBI used the Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization to confirm that the number “is associated with Lore Blumenthal”.  After obtaining records from the Etsy store owner via a subpoena, the FBI was able to confirm that the shirts purchased had been shipped to the same West Duval Street address connected to Blumenthal.

“Blumenthal, who is charged with two counts of knowingly causing malicious destruction, is in federal custody. The federal charges were lodged because the Philly police receive funding from the US government,” PennLive reported.

According to civil rights advocates, the extent to which the FBI and Justice Department have used news footage, online histories, and social media footprints to track down and identify demonstrators believed to be responsible for acts of violence or property destruction raises questions about the scope of law enforcement surveillance of protest movements and the use of the very social media networks that protesters have relied upon to spread their message (reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer).  “Social media has fueled much of the protests, and has also become a fertile ground for government surveillance,” said Paul Hetznecker, an attorney who has organized a group of lawyers to represent demonstrators, including Blumenthal. “I think people have lost awareness of that.”

So, what do you think?  How far should law enforcement be allowed to go to use a person’s social media footprint to identify them as a suspect?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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  1. I suspect it is used frequently. If it is publically available with no inherent privacy issues I think it is more than ok. People should be thoughtful and careful about what they post.

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