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Using Google Images to find government contracts

Do you think you’re a pro at using Google? Business journalists can benefit from learning technical skills, like Boolean logic and open-source intelligence search techniques. 

Here are some simple tricks to help you hunt down documents as you report on businesses:

How to find contracts or official documents on Google Images

In the United States, contracts between government agencies and companies can often be obtained using an open records request (FOIA). But those can take time and sometimes copies of those agreements can actually end up on the internet.

To find them, we’re going to use an open-source intelligence (OSINT) trick. According to Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab, OSINT is “not one single method to get at truth, but rather a combination of creative and critical thinking to navigate digital sources on the web.”

OSINT methods can include a combination of social media, search engines, satellite imagery, databases and more.

For this trick, we’re going to start with the Google Images search bar using a few specific keywords and the company name.

“[entity or company name]” date signature black and white

With this search, you’re telling Google to look for pictures that contain:

  • the key words inside the quotation marks
  • a date
  • a signature
  • the colors black, white

For this example, we’re going to use Cellebrite, an Israeli digital forensics firm. The company’s technology is often used by police to bypass encrypted devices — but the firm has also come under fire for how its tools have been used against journalists and private citizens.

That’s because “most of its tools are designed to extract information from unlocked devices, to make it easier for investigators to sift through all the data held on a phone as part of their investigations,” according to The Guardian Australia.

Let’s see what U.S. cities (government entities) may have contracts with Cellebrite (a private company). To do this we’re going to include “city of” in the search.

Here’s what the search term in Google Images will look like:

“cellebrite” “city of” date signature black and white

Here’s what comes up:

If you click on some of the results, you’ll see various official documents concerning agreements between different cities and the company Cellebrite.

Here are a few of the results the search brought up:

Want to learn more?

For more OSINT reporting tricks that may help you investigate a private company, here’s a free workshop from the Global Investigative Journalism Network and a guide from the Columbia Journalism Review.

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