User:Cropje/Journalist's arrest sparks alarm over the legality of social networking activity
Police in the Australian state of Queensland have arrested a technology journalist for receiving private Facebook photos as part of coverage of a technology security conference, raising questions about the legal implications of everyday online behaviour.
Ben Grubb, deputy technology editor at national newspaper group, was arrested at the AusCERT conference on the Gold Coast. He had his confiscated by police. Grubb is accused of receiving stolen photos from a hacked Facebook account as part of a presentation which sought to highlight privacy vulnerabilities in the popular social networking site.
An online technology commentator, Charis Palmer, strongly criticised Queensland police’s reaction, saying that Grubb’s arrest should "ring alarm bells" for the media and legal professions.
In comments made to the media the day after Grubb's arrest, Queensland police fraud squad chief Brian Hay drew comparisons between obtaining a photograph from a Facebook account without permission to receiving a stolen television set.
News of Grubb's arrest first broke on Twitter, where Queensland police later issued a denial that the Fairfax journalist had been detained. Queensland Police Media subsequently rectified the original denial, conceding that Grubb had in fact been taken into custody for questioning.
"Our bad, Ben Grubb was arrested for questioning briefly. Our tweet last night was based on information provided at the time. Apologies," read the rectification on Twitter.
In his comments to the media, Hay admitted that police are still "cutting our teeth" in rapidly evolving online environments. Police were unable to indicate any previous cases of charges being brought in relation to misuse of photographs on social networking websites.
Condemnation of Queensland police’s actions from Internet and technology activists and academics has been swift. Peter Black, a senior lecturer in Internet law at the Queensland University of Technology, said in comments to Fairfax media that Grubb’s arrest "defies sensible explanation".
Mr Black also criticised Australian cyber-crime laws, which he says are too broad, creating the potential for "ordinary online activity" to be criminalised. In comments to the ABC, Mr Black expressed surprise that Queensland police had decided to pursue the journalist who reported the story, rather than the researcher who actually accessed the private photos.
Thewebsite claimed that some AusCERT participants had described the researcher's "stunt", which targeted the wife of an prominent online hacker, as unethical.
- Charis Palmer. "The police get Grubby" — , May 19, 2011
- Peter Black. "Fraud, Facebook, sources and cybercrime: the Grubb muddle" — , May 19, 2011
- Asher Moses. "Cyber law risks making the 'ordinary' criminal: expert" — , May 18, 2011
- Andrew Ramadge. "Fairfax journalist Ben Grubb arrested after reporting on Facebook privacy flaw" — , May 18, 2011
- Asher Moses. "Facebook 'break-ins': police say receiving photos like taking stolen TVs" — , May 18, 2011
- Ben Grubb. "Security experts go to war: wife targeted" — , May 17, 2011