Mafia figure on the run for 20 years caught out by Google Maps

·2-min read

The surveillance power of big tech is well known – and sometimes it wields that power by accident. 

A fugitive and high-ranking member of the Italian mob has learned that lesson the hard way after he was caught out by authorities in one of Google's most popular pieces of technology: Google Maps. 

The tech giant's globe-spanning photography initiative stitches together a 2D map of the terrestrial world and Italian police were scrolling through the images recently when they spotted something they'd long been looking for.

On the street corner, standing in front of a fruit shop, appeared to be 61-year-old Gioacchino Gammino. 

The mafia boss had been on the run for nearly 20 years. 

This Google Maps image of two men standing at a corner store in Spain was used to track down the mafia fugitive.
Police said the discovery helped trigger a deeper investigation. Source: Google Maps

He was found with the help of the Google Maps app, an investigator told Reuters on Wednesday (local time), saying the picture helped trigger a deeper investigation.

"The photograph helped us to confirm the investigation we were developing in traditional ways," Nicola Altiero, deputy director of the Italian anti-mafia police unit (DIA), said.

Gammino escaped from prison, sentenced to life for murder

After a two-year investigation, Mr Gammino was tracked down in Galapagar, Spain, where he lived under a fake name. The town is close to the capital Madrid.

Gammino, a member of a Sicilian mafia group dubbed Stidda, had escaped Rome's Rebibbia jail in 2002 and in 2003 had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder committed several years earlier.

Mr Altiero said Gammino was currently under custody in Spain and they hoped to bring him back to Italy by the end of February.

While the fortuitous use of Google Maps has garnered global headlines, authorities were keen to point out it was just one small part of the investigation.

"It's not as if we spend our days wading through Google Maps to find fugitives," Palermo prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi said in an interview with The Guardian

"There were many previous and long investigations, which led us to Spain. We were on a good path, with Google Maps helping to confirm our investigations."

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