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Photos from stolen laptop lead to man's arrest

A man later identified as Muthanna Aldebashi is seen via a webcam on a laptop owned by Joshua Kaufman of Oakland, Calif. Theft-tracking software led to the laptop’s recovery.

Photo from Joshua Kaufman

A man later identified as Muthanna Aldebashi is seen via a webcam on a laptop owned by Joshua Kaufman of Oakland, Calif. Theft-tracking software led to the laptop’s recovery.

When he couldn't get help from police, Oakland, Calif., resident Joshua Kaufman went online and used Twitter and a blog to help track down his stolen laptop. His efforts were successful and the computer was returned Wednesday — the latest example of people, not police, using technology to help find their own stolen property.

It helped that just before the laptop was stolen, he had installed theft-tracking software called Hidden that was developed by London-based Flipcode Ltd. The program — part LoJack, part nanny cam — is equipped with location positioning software.

Kaufman had just moved to a new apartment March 21 when a burglar broke in, taking the laptop, a bag, an electronic book reader, and a bottle of gin. He activated theft-tracking software, which began sending photos taken by the computer's built-in camera of the unauthorized user three days later.

The images from Hidden were grainy, low-lit and intimate: a man curled up on a couch, sound asleep; the same man propped up against pillows on a bed, shirtless.

Kaufman took the images to police, who did not help him. So he went online, publishing the pictures on Twitter and in a blog titled "This Guy Has My MacBook."

"It got picked up by social media and the press. It went super viral," he said. On the same day that he posted his website on Twitter, police came calling. On Tuesday, they arrested a 27-year-old cab driver, Muthanna Aldebashi.

Oakland police spokeswoman Holly Joshi blamed the large volume of theft reports Oakland police receive — about 2,400 a month for three theft investigators — and human oversight for the initial failure to follow up on Kaufman's leads. "It was filed away," Joshi said. "It had leads, so it shouldn't have been filed away."

Aldebashi was being held in an Oakland jail on $20,000 bail, authorities said.

Photos from stolen laptop lead to man's arrest 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 10:15pm]

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