The first sentencing has been handed down in a Texas case centered on the use of Grindr as a platform from which to perpetrate hate crimes. Nigel Garrett was given 15 years yesterday after pleading guilty to a list of crimes including assault, carjacking, and use of firearms, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
Garrett, and three accomplices admitted in August to having arranged on the dating app for gay men to meet victims at their homes in several Texas cities, where they would tie them up, assault and rob them. The accomplices await sentencing (the maximum is life).
These crimes ought to be of interest to the tech world because they are very much enabled by tech. While of course assaults against people because of their race, sexual orientation, religion and so on are obviously possible (and frequent) without the aid of an app, something like Grindr exemplifies the risk of having that information accessible instantly to anyone.
On the other hand, the nature of the apps also means that there is a wealth of evidence in a case like Garrett’s that the crimes were specifically targeted at a population. There’s no doubt that these men targeted people of a certain sexual orientation, as there might be in a street assault.
“Hate crimes are violent crimes, but also attack the fundamental principles of the United States,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore in a statement in August. Those principles are increasingly being tested and abused online, so it’s good to see these digitally-enabled crimes pursued aggressively.
The trail of digital clues, such as app and phone records, was no doubt crucial to building a strong case, and will be in more and more investigations going forward. I’ve asked Grinder for comment on what if anything it can do (or has done) to prevent crimes like this or aid in their resolution.
Notably this case was pursued by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has been attempting to crack down on hate crimes recently.