COMMENT: A Queensland Police Publicity stunt or cops that don’t have a clue about technology and social networking? The recent arrest of Fairfax Journalist Ben Grubb by Queensland Police raises some interesting issues.We all know police love “power” and publicity. But the latest actions of Detective Superintendent Brian Hay and his team is more like a cheap comedy show than serious policing. Hay, who seems to have put aside some serious crimes to go after journalist, Grubb has become an object of ridicule in some quarters and rightly so.
His heavy handed approach towards a journalist trying to do his job seems to have been more a case of a Queensland Police Squad trying to prove a point at a security conference and falling flat on his face as soon as he walked through the door, than a police officer actually investigating a serious security crime.
Hay says the investigation was in response to a specific complaint about the obtaining of private pictures from a Facebook site.
One thing I am certain of is that if a house in Queensland was robbed or a car stolen or a fraudulent credit card transaction committed you would not get Detective Superintendent Brian Hay and his cohorts knocking on your door to investigate the crime. It’s more likely to be mere plod that is merely going through the process to satisfy some insurance claim.
How the law applies to the internet is now a major issue thanks to the mob heavy approach of Hay.
Grubb was arrested after he published a story covering a presentation made by security expert Christian Heinrich at an IT security conference.
Heinrich lifted a photo from the private Facebook profile of the wife of a rival security expert security contractor Chris Gatford who I am told has a business relationship with the Queensland Government and was well known to members of Hay’s Squad before the event took place.
Taped transcripts obtained by Fairfax reveals that it was a very pissed off Chris Gatford, the security professional who lodged the complaint to senior police officers, who instantly moved to arrest Grubb.
Hay used the pretext of Grubb not cooperating with police when he refused to give up his iPad to arrest him.
Hay likened the activity to someone accepting a TV when they know it to be stolen. Really, was the picture stolen or copied? My understanding is that the image is still sitting on Facebook servers.
And in another amazing revelation, Detective Superintendent Brian Hay says a culture of hacking competition has built up at conferences around the world, and crimes may well have been committed at those events.
Maybe Hay needs a trip to Las Vegas and the famous Black Hat Security Conference which is attended by hackers from around the world, including members of Anonymous, who were responsible for hacking into various high profile accounts after the recent WikiLeaks saga.
He would be in good company, because the audience is packed with FBI, CIA and countless police force officers from around the world who want to stay in touch with the real world of serious hacking instead of the simple copying of an image by a journalist doing his job.
Hay burbled on “It’s probably quite sad, really, that we may have people out there that think it’s their right to just go in, and it’s a game, and it’s not serious,” Hay says.
Charles Palmer put it aptly this morning when he wrote on business Spectator ‘Well yes, Detective Hay, that’s kind of the point’. What’s less common is the attendees at such conferences, which typically include law enforcement professionals, turning what is meant to be an opportunity for education and security advancement into a witch hunt.
Yet it would be hard to imagine any law enforcement agency responding with such haste and vigour to an everyday complaint from someone complaining their Facebook photos had been stolen.
Do the Queensland Police not have more pressing issues to focus on?
The cops who arrested Grubb were so technology dyslexic that at one point during the questioning one of the officers asked Grubb to pardon his “lack of technology” and after being asked a range of technical questions about how Facebook works, Grubb basically told them to rack off and that he was not there to make their case for the Queensland Police.
Business Spectator said that Grubb was faced with a series of leading questions, which ultimately resulted in him betraying his source. Asked how the Sydney Morning Herald came to be in possession of the photo, Grubb replied “Christian gave it to us.” He then went on to add that the photo was presented publicly in front of 30 people. But the damage was already done.
When he realised where the conversation was going Grubb said he did not wish to provide a copy of the photo, but admitted he had kept notes of his conversation with Heinrich on his iPad. This gave the police the grounds they needed to seize the iPad, and when Grubb refused to hand it over, make an arrest.
An email to the ABC said, that receiving a copy of a photograph that was obtained illegally is NOT the same as receiving stolen goods as the original owner still has the original copy. At worst it is a copyright infringement and an invasion of privacy.
The journalist did not access the data themselves, they were sent a copy of it by the security expert who did it as proof that it could be easily obtained.
Identity theft is using data about someone (maybe sourced online or through dumpster diving) to impersonate that person.
This is a type of fraud. This did not happen in this case. If it was to be compared to a traditional crime, it would be equivalent to receiving a photocopy of a photo of someones private documents that were obtained by illegal entry into someone’s house. This would be laughed out of court.
The crime committed here was by the security expert, not the journo. Police may have the right to seize the laptop as evidence (to help track down the actual criminal), but to arrest the reporter for this is wrong.