Police Slammed Over Facebook Hacking Farce

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Legal advocates and academics have attacked the actions of Queensland Police in arresting Fairfax IT journalist Ben Grubb over his report on a security expert’s hacking of private photos on Facebook at this week’s AusCert conference.In what appears to be a massive over reaction by QLD detectives with little if any IT experience, it has now emerged that the Qld police media unit deliberately lied after Police arrested Grubb.

It’s also emerged that detectives carrying out the investigation may be linked to security contractor Chris Gatford who lodged the original complaint.

Queensland civil liberties advocate Terry O’Gorman last night told the ABC’s PM program the police had overstepped their powers in making an arrest without a charge. He described their actions as “heavy-handed overkill and hamfisted policing [of the type] seen in Queensland in the 1980s.”

Legal academic Peter Black told the Australian IT that Grubb was apparently detained under a little known section of the Queensland Criminal Code for allegedly receiving “tainted” property – never previously used to arrest a journalist.

Other observers described the action as a “shoot the messenger” exercise. And the Twitterverse – alerted by Grubb as he was being grilled – exploded with hundreds of angry tweets.

Despite the Queensland Police media unit initially denying that Grubb had been arrested – claiming he had only been questioned – transcripts of his interrogation released yesterday prove that Grubb was indeed arrested and his iPad seized.

He was later “un-arrested” – the police terminology – and permitted to go without any charge having been laid. But the iPad remains in police custody, and so far there has been no known move to interview or charge Christian Heinrich, the security expert who had demonstrated his ability to download supposedly private photos from Facebook – even though Heinrich has said he is available.

Heinrich later showed Grubb how he obtained Facebook photographs of rival security contractor Chris Gatford and wife and family, including a child, that were privacy-protected. One photograph, with a face blurred, briefly appeared in a Grubb story on the Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax websites, but was later removed.

The technique used by Heinrich involved a seven-day computer attack to “guess” the URLs of the images stored on Facebook’s content distribution network.

 

 

After questioning Grubb, Det.-Supt Errol Coultis, who had been at the AusCert conference, told the journalist he was under arrest in relation to having received unlawfully obtained property. He said a complaint had been filed by Chris Gatford.

“What I had thought had been a simple case of answering some police questions had suddenly taken a turn for the worse,” said Grubb in an article published on Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age Web sites. “I felt as if I had been double-crossed. It seemed ridiculous that I, as the ‘messenger’ who reported on what the police were now saying was a criminal matter, could now be the target.”

An ironic touch: the police allowed Grubb to record the interview on his iPhone, while they recorded it on a policewoman’s iPhone. When the policewoman’s phone rang during the interview, interrupting the recording, Grubb helpfully showed her how to switch the mobile to airplane mode, thereby blocking calls in or out.

‘Unfairly targeted’

However Grubb used his phone to call his boss and Fairfax lawyers. After an hour of negotiations, he was “un-arrested” and allowed to leave, without having been charged, but the police kept his iPad and told him forensic officers would make a complete copy of all data on it.

“I feel like I have been unfairly targeted. Journalists must be able to report what they observe – that’s what they’ve been doing for ages and so to see this kind of policing occurring is very alarming,” Grubb wrote on the Fairfax Web sites. “And to lose a device that contains not only private but work-related information is also another seriously alarming development for a journalist.”

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