Australia: Journalist Arrest Over Facebook Photo

Australian journalist arrested and iPad seized! No it’s not Julian Assange.

But Ben Grubb’s brief encounter with Queensland authorities raised several serious cyber issues including social media privacy and security, police powers of arrest and confiscation of digital devices, plus journalists’ rights.

As Tigtog explained at Larvatus Prodeo:

Fairfax journalist Ben Grubb was briefly arrested by Queensland Police yesterday after writing an article about an internet security expert who gave a conference slideshow presentation on the ease of bypassing Facebook’s privacy controls to obtain a user’s photographs without a username or password. The security expert had allegedly sent Grubb copies of some of the “private” Facebook images that he had accessed.

Charis Palmer of Technology Spectator was not only appalled by the police actions:

The transcript of Grubb’s conversation with the Queensland Police officers gives real insight into why journalists should be concerned about the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act, and should as a matter of practice encrypt any source data on the devices they use for work.

But also lamented how tech un-savvy our community guardians can be:

It also shows the real lack of technology knowledge within the police force. 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 was then left to essentially tell the officer it was not up to him to make his case for him.

Adam Garner works in IT consulting and blogs at TGF. He was at the conference where the photos were displayed and later pondered the legal and ethical questions:

Was what Christian did ethical? In my mind, no.
Was it legal? Probably not.
Did QPS intimidate Ben Grubb? It would seem so to me.
Should Ben Grubb have a case to answer to police? To me, it seems like QPS are shooting the messenger.
Can police just sieze someones iPad like that? They seem to think so.

Not all members of the police force are cyber dunces, as Adam's link to a Queensland Police Service media unit tweet shows:

@QPSmedia: Police can legally seize material which may be evidence of a crime. It will be returned as soon as we can do so.

Geordie Guy's personal blog I'm Not a Ninja, I'm Not Your Ninja echoed Adam’s concerns about police lack of tech knowledge:

Queensland police need to learn how technology works before it becomes police policy to arrest everyone on the Internet when something goes wrong.

The story quickly received international attention on the blogosphere. Paul Sawers posted at UK based TNW (The Next Web):

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.

Peter Black, senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology's Law School, specialises in Internet law. His post on the ABC’s Drum took a deeper look at the legal implications of this incident:

This incident raises questions relating to the scope of Australia’s cybercrime legislation, the questionable judgment of the Queensland Police in deciding to pursue the journalist who reported the story (and not as yet the researcher who managed to obtain access to the private photos), and whether Australia’s laws provide proper safeguards for journalists.

Somehow the original target, Facebook, has escaped close scrutiny so far. However, Nano at JailbreakGuides Guides ‘news, tweaks and hacks about jailbreaking’ reminded us that:

Heinrich supposedly pulled this stunt, to demonstrate that even with the highest security settings, Facebook can still be infiltrated by those who know how.

In their own words:

Ben Grubb’s print media response and audio of the seizure of his iPad is available here: Grubb's story: privacy, news and the strong arm of the law

A video of the police justification is here: Facebook ‘break-ins': police say receiving photos like taking stolen TVs

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