Open source means information available to anyone, not just police officers. I typically use six websites for graffiti investigations:
Detective Michael Bazzell of the Alton, Illinois, Police Department has an exhaustive list of every possible website you could use for investigations at his web site, Intel Techniques.
Flickr is a popular place for professional and serious amateur photographers to share their work. Casual photographers typically share photographs on Facebook and only use Flickr if anonymity is sought, as there is no requirement to use a real name to create a Flickr account. The anonymity of Flickr has made it popular with graffiti vandals. The majority of photos of graffiti on Flickr are posted by people who did not write the graffiti. They simply enjoy photographing street art and call themselves “graffiti hunters.” However, if a Flickr user is only posting a certain graffiti tag, this person is likely responsible for the graffiti.
User Name Search
If the user allows it, Flickr will list the Exif (exchangeable image file format) data of each image. The Exif may contain the camera’s serial number which can be searched at StolenCameraFinder and Camera Trace. If the Exif contains GPS this will tell you where the photograph was taken. The Exif will also list the time the photo was taken, which could be useful in an investigation.
Graffiti Reading Tutor
Flickr’s most useful purpose for a graffiti investigator is to teach you how to read graffiti because almost every image has a subtitle stating what the graffiti says. When a tag is uploaded the user will “tag” the photo with what the graffiti says for searching purposes.
Run graffiti tags in Google and see what you find. If the tag is a common word you may need to add the qualifier “graffiti” to the search. You may need to narrow down the search by adding a geographic location.
Examples to search on Google.com
dfs graffiti seattle
spring break graffiti seattle
Web Site Search
You should be aware of the “site colon” search. It useful for websites with no or poor built-in search.
Example to search on Google.com
Pipl.com is a website that provides information such as addresses and phone numbers on people gathered from commercial credit reporting companies. There are many websites that do this but I have found that Pipl is the best free one.
Social Media Search
Run a suspect's email address and Pipl will also automatically search for the target's social media sites. I have gotten lucky and it has located obscure websites where my suspect posts graffiti pictures.
Most graffiti vandals are aware that the police will look at their Facebook page so they avoid using it to document illegal activity. Some criminals get around this by using an alias as their name on Facebook.
Finding Alias Facebook Accounts
You might be able to find a hidden Facebook page by using the if you know the target’s phone number or email address. Simply write the phone number or email address in the Facebook search box. Another method of finding a hidden Facebook page is examining the friends lists of the target's family.
Social Graph Search
Simply write a sentence of what you want to find in the Facebook search box.
single men in Seattle who like graffiti
Word and Phrase Search
Another hidden trick of Facebook is that you can search every public post for a certain word or phrase. The search function tries to suggest user account that it thinks you want, but if you simply click on the magnifying glass next to the search box will search everything.
Instagram is an online photo sharing and social networking service. It popularized using filters to modify photos. The service is gradually replacing Flickr as the go to place to anonymously share graffiti photos. Pro tip: create an Instagram account that focuses on graffiti so you can friend users who have locked down accounts.
Tumblr is a service that allows people to quickly create a blog about any topic. A popular topic is graffiti.
Taking the Next Step
If you decide you need to obtain information using a search warrant or subpoena, search.org has law enforcement contact information for just about every major site on the web.
Help me improve this page by emailing suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.