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This article was published on May 18, 2011

Accepting Facebook photos without permission is the same as “receiving stolen TVs”, says Australian police

Accepting Facebook photos without permission is the same as “receiving stolen TVs”, says Australian police

Following on from yesterday’s story about the Australian journalist that was arrested after he wrote a report on a Facebook-hacking stunt at a security conference in Queensland, more details about the case have now emerged.

Ben Grubb, a Technology Editor at Fairfax Media, it transpires was actually arrested by police despite claims by Queensland Police via Twitter that he had only been brought in for interview. The big question that remained was why, exactly, was Ben Grubb arrested when all he had done was report on the unethical actions of an individual at a conference?

Well, it transpires that Christian Heinrich, the security expert that had circumvented Chris Gatford’s Facebook account to obtain photos (including some of his wife), had shared these images with Grubb. And Grubb in turn published one of the ‘stolen’ images of Christ Gatford when his initial story went live on the Sydney Morning Herald website. The photo, it seems, is no longer there.

At a press conference the following morning, the police stated that receiving photos unlawfully from Facebook was akin to receiving stolen TVs.

Detective Superintendent Hay from Queensland Police, said:

“Someone breaks into your house and they steal a TV and they give that TV to you and you know that TV is stolen. The reality is the online environment is now an extension of our real community and if we go into that environment we have responsibilities to behave in a certain way. I think the cyber environment represents the greatest challenge to law enforcement in the history of policing.”

When Grubb was hauled in for interview, which later turned into an arrest when he confessed that the image of Gatford had been obtained through illicit means, he had the presence of mind to switch his iPhone audio recorder on, and the full transcript of the questioning is available online.

When asked by police how the Sydney Morning Herald had gotten hold of the image, Grubb stated that Heinrich had provided him with the image. Pushed by police on whether he still possessed a copy of the image, Grubb attempted to say that it was ‘in the cloud’ on the Sydney Morning Herald website. But the police specifically wanted to know whether he still possessed a digital copy himself. And crucially, they wanted to know if he had any notes of the meeting he had with Christian Heinrich, here’s a segment of the interview, published in the Sydney Morning Herald.:

Queensland Police: Did you record your conversation with Christian?

BG: I don’t… I need to seek legal advice on that as well. I wrote notes. If that helps. But I think when you ask to record someone you need to seek their permission and.

Queensland Police: Like we’ve done.

BG: Yeah just like you have. So yeah, I’ve written notes that kind of back up me if anything falls flat.

Queensland Police: Sure. Are you willing to tell us how you made those notes on a device?

BG: On an iPad.

Queensland Police: Are you in possession of that iPad?

BG: Yep.

Queensland Police: You are? All right, is there anything else you wish to say?

After another small exchange, where the police say they’re going to confiscate the iPad, the transcript continues:

BG: I need to go back to work tomorrow and this is my iPad. I don’t want to do that.

Queensland Police: Ok. Well. I am now going to tell you that you are now under arrest. OK? In relation to receiving unlawfully obtained property. Ok? And we are now seizing your iPad. So if you could please hand your iPad over to us.

This case may set a precedent in terms of what constitutes illegal activity online. Althought Grubb isn’t likely to face any further reprimands for receiving the photos, this case does raise some big questions on how the police will handle such activity in the future. Many people have been prosecuted for downloading music illegally, and it seems that procuring images without permission from Facebook is very much in the same ballpark.