Yes and no. But mostly no.
This is perhaps one of the most common questions I get. Unfortunately, people’s expectations have been colored — often dramatically — by popular television shows and movies.
Unfortunately, this is real life, which isn’t nearly as easy or exciting.
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- There is public information about IP addresses.
- Public information is limited to identifying the ISP providing a specific IP address.
- More details are available from the ISP, but typically only if you have a valid, legal reason.
Publicly available information
As I’ve discussed in previous articles, there are services on the internet that return information about an IP address. An IP address (short for Internet Protocol Address) is a number used to identify a device connected to a TCP/IP network like the internet.
ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, is the canonical place to start. It’s the organization that organizes IP address assignments in the U.S. They provide a “who is” (often just referred to as whois, without the space) search, which will look up the owner of an IP address or refer you to the equivalent service in another country, if appropriate.
DomainTools.com is another one that includes a whois service. It looks up both domain names (like “askleo.com”) and IP addresses, so you can see who owns them.
PlotIP is an interesting service that will also perform a whois lookup and return information about the IP address, including a map of where the service believes the IP address is located.
The problem with public information
In all of these cases, and other similar services, the information retrieved is about the owner of the IP address, not the current user of the IP address.
In other words, the information you get relates only to the ISP or hosting company that has allocated that IP address to one of its customers.
Typically, the information includes the name, address, and phone number of the ISP. In the case of attempts to determine location, the information is at best an approximation, and either represents the location of the ISP’s headquarters or of one of the ISP’s distribution points.
In a practical sense, it is never the location of the actual person who is using that IP address.
Getting more detail
The ISP knows more. In fact, I’d venture to say that the ISP probably knows everything. They know to whom the IP address was assigned. For dynamic IP addresses, I’m sure they know or can find out who it was allocated to, when it was allocated, and for how long it was used.
But there’s an issue that interferes with getting that information from the ISP.
Face it: you wouldn’t want your ISP to just hand out your private information to anyone who walked up with some kind of story claiming they needed it. The same is hopefully true for any and all ISPs: privacy matters.
ISPs will turn over that information to law enforcement when the right requests are made and paperwork presented. In the U.S., that’s typically a court order. In that case, the ISP will provide the information to the police, not to you. The police can then take the appropriate steps based on your reasons for going this far in the first place.
So can I get it or not?
Can you get a name an address from an IP? Yes, if you are the police and have the legal backing to ask for it.
Otherwise, no. If you’re a regular person just trying to track something down on your own, that information is not available. The same privacy policies and restrictions that protect you protect everyone.