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How Google Earth got a dumper arrested

After a man decides to dump a one-ton boat in a Florida subdivision, police turn to Google Earth to try learn where the boat might have come from.

If you had a one-ton boat for which you no longer had any use, what would you do?

Would you give it to a former lover, the one who sailed off with your heart, your favorite books, and your Social Security number? Or would you offer it to some charity, in the hope that they would come to pick it up in a very large truck?

For some reason, a man in Santa Rosa County, Fla., chose none of these routes. Instead, according to the Pensacola News Journal, he dumped the boat in a subdivision that didn't yet enjoy its full complement of houses and people. Perhaps the dumper thought no one would notice. Perhaps he even thought no one would care.

Perhaps, though, he wasn't aware of the power, scope and immediacy of Google Earth. Beneath the fingers of police deputy Gregory Barnes, Google's little Snoopy One became the digital means by which he solved such an analog mystery.

Remember, Google is watching you. CC Sir Adavis/Flickr

For Barnes wondered to himself whether the boat might have been housed somewhere in the vicinity, and that housing might have been captured by Google's fine and even-handed overhead surveillance.

The boat, an 18-foot 1986 Four Winns 190 Horizon, had been dumped with all its identifications removed. So where else could Barnes turn?

It didn't take too long for him to spot this rather large floating vessel at the home of 57-year-old Dwight Everett Foster. It didn't take too much longer for Everett to be charged with "littering more than 500 pounds of waste." Which happens to be a felony.

The strange thing about all this--other than to remind you not to leave any trace of yourself at the mercy of anything that begins with the word "Google"--is that Foster's son removed the boat three days after Barnes contacted his father and reportedly paid precisely $18 to dump it in a landfill.

Now his dad faces up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. So if you have anything stolen, borrowed or temporarily kidnapped for ransom--whether it's a boat, a car, a pooch or even a major industrialist--please be aware that some Google camera might be capturing it. And that might lead to someone in a uniform capturing you.