The Myth and the Truth of the IP Address Tracing
Many people are under the misconception that it’s easy to trace the physical location of the personal computer to which an internet IP address continues to be assigned and thereby identify the computer’s user.
It’s certainly not simple and depending on who you are it may not actually be possible.
An IP or even “Internet Protocol” address is the special number assigned to every device like a computer on a network so that information can be routed to and through that device and no other. Much like your postal mailing address recognizes the physical location of your own post box and allows your own mail carrier to know where to provide your mail, a device’s IP address is what allows the web to know where to send the information destined for your computer.
But whilst an IP address is like the physical address it’s important to realize that’s not what actually is.
IP addresses are designated not based on where you are, but depending on where you get your internet connectivity. The IP address that might be assigned for your computer at home might be radically distinct from the one assigned to your the next door neighbor’s computer next door if you use different ISPs. Even if you used the exact same ISP there are no rules or even practices that would make your IP addresses necessarily appear “close” to each other in any sense, other than the comfort of the ISP.
And however somehow television and movie dramas would have us believe that given simply an IP address a lawbreaker can be located in minutes.
It’s no place near that easy.
Publicly available information regarding an IP address will tell you which usually ISP is providing that address, and not much else. Some additional information might be available that indicates the common area that an IP address may reside, but that can be as common as telling you only what nation it’s in, or perhaps what town but rarely, if ever, anything more particular. Services that claim to be able to determine the location of a specific IP address using only publicly available info are misleading at best.
The INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER holds the key. The INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER that “owns” the IP tackle that is assigned to your computer furthermore knows where you live. It’s there which they send your bill or connect the wires. If you’re upon dial-up, then in conjunction with the phone company they know which cell phone line you’re using to call in, and once again the cell phone company knows where that collection terminates.
You’ll helping you.
This is where the legal program enters into the picture. Police and the courts can, along with appropriate cause, request or even need that the information be offered. Most typically that implies that the law enforcement professionals go to a judge, supply evidence that there is reasonable cause to trust a crime as been dedicated, at which point the judge problems a court order compelling the ISP to release the information.
If there’s nothing to suggest that a criminal offense has been committed then in theory actually law enforcement cannot get the details.
This puts those who are perhaps becoming victimized by cyberbullying and additional online harassment at a disadvantage. It means that as long as the the exercise stays “legal”, then there’s small that can be done to trace the offender. Fortunately many locations are putting directly into place laws that more straight address these situations and which usually law enforcement can use to trace the offenders.
While it’s certainly important that IP based location information be available as needed, your privacy is also an important problem. Since your computer’s IP tackle is easily available whenever you use the internet you don’t want someone to arbitrarily locate you by using it.
ISPs and service providers are important gatekeepers of that will privacy.
The truth is that indeed, an IP address does actually uniquely identify a computer connection to the internet, and that information may be used to determine a physical location. However the myth is that it’s simple, and it’s not. Important privacy methods prevent that level of fine detail from being available to the public; ISPs, service providers and typically police force must be involved.