Police dogs have been helping helping their human counterparts identify contraband for years — sniffing out drugs, bombs, cash, and suspects. Now they can add hard drives to the list. As reported by the Providence Journal of Rhode Island over the weekend, state police now have a dog named Thoreau capable of smelling concealed hard drives, thumb drives, memory cards, and other electronic storage media. The dog is supposed to help officers hunt for child pornography. Thoreau, a Golden Labrador, already helped arrest one suspect in June, locating a thumb drive containing child porn hidden in a tin box inside another metal cabinet. "If it has a memory card, he’ll sniff it out," Detective Adam Houston, Thoreau’s handler, told the Journal.
Thoreau was trained and given to the Rhode Island State police by the Connecticut State Police force, making the two the only states to have such specialized K9 units. However, given the proliferation of child pornography online and the early success of Thoreau, you can be sure other departments will consider following his nose. It's worth noting that detection dogs are not without their share of controversy as well: the Supreme Court just last year ruled that using a detection dog on a suspect's property to search for contraband inside his or her home constitutes an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. Other studies have called into question police dogs' reliability at scenting drugs and explosives. If more police departments adopt hard drive-sniffing dogs (as is likely) and if they are used to identify offending material beyond child pornography — to piracy or other, less severe electronic contraband — expect similar controversies to arise.