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Police used Spotify to find two fugitives in Mexico

Police used Spotify to find two fugitives in Mexico

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If you want to drop off the grid, don't forget to cancel your streaming services. That's the lesson from a new case reported in The Coloradoan, which saw one couple's Spotify and Netflix accounts used to track them after they fled to Mexico.

The fugitives were Brittany Nunn and her husband Peter Barr, who fled their home in Wellington, Colorado after losing a custody battle over Nunn's two children. The court had awarded primary custody of the two sisters — six and four years old, respectively — to their biological fathers. But Nunn and her husband defied the order, spurring a seven-month manhunt that drew in local, state, and federal investigators alongside private detectives hired by the fathers.

The fugitive couple was finally located through a search warrant served to Spotify. According to the company's records, the couple's account had been used by an IP address in Mexico, although the limits of US law prevented a more specific identification. The lead was confirmed by similar records from Netflix, and investigators finally traced a package delivered to Nunn to a Cabo address. From there, federal agents worked with the Mexican consulate on bringing the couple and the abducted children back to the US.

It's a clever tactic and a reminder of how many modern services can quietly give away a user's location. For Fourth Amendment purists, the story is also a reminder that old-fashioned warrants are still a perfectly viable way to track down criminals. While broad, FISA-ordered business records requests have become both common and controversial in the intelligence world, a simple court-ordered warrant was more than enough to track down Nunn and Barr.

7/12 11:22pm: An earlier version of this article stated that a US warrant was used to compel Spotify to divulge Nunn's address in Mexico. This is not the case, and the article has been updated to clarify. The initial Spotify warrant revealed only that Nunn and Barr were in Mexico.