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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Guess what, Nigel! The state is not your friend

Unless there is much more to this case than meets the eye, which is always possible of course given the light and fluffy way the BBC tends to report such things, can there be any better indication of the casual malevolence of modern regulatory states?

A man who informed police when he found child abuse images on his computer has not been allowed to be alone with his daughter for four months. Nigel Robinson from Hull said he called police after trying to download music but instead finding pornographic images on his laptop last November.

As a result social services said he “should not have unsupervised access with his own or other children”.

Unless one is calling the police to try and get rapid intervention in an ongoing violent crime, calling them for just about any other reasons is extremely unwise. To expect any good to come of inviting the state across your threshold because of “something you found on your computer” is an amazingly bad idea. Actually it verges on crazy.

Mr Robinson said: “It makes you feel as though you shouldn’t have reported it in the first place.”

Really? A bit late now, mate! Get this through your head, Nigel, the state is not there to defend you or your daughter, it is there to defend itself and for its employees to justify their tax funded existence by ‘doing things’… and the council’s social care team does not justify its existence by leaving you alone.

You have not been arrested or charged with a crime? Er, so what? You think that makes a difference?

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17 comments to Guess what, Nigel! The state is not your friend

  • You wait weeks for a Perry de Havilland posting, and then two come along.

  • Anne On

    No explanation for how the material could have got there, only that he ‘was trying to download music’, dubious. Maybe the cat downloaded them.

    But, taking the story at face value, im not sure what i would do about it in the same situation; if you had accidentally downloaded that material then surely it would be wise to let the rozzers know it was an accident, and get them to do something about the source, rather than constantly worrying about being bundled into the back of a wagon at 5 am?

  • David Gillies

    Hard drives are cheap. Buy a new one, fill the old one with zeros, then random data*, then bin it. Or, even better, open it up (a #5 TORX bit usually works), scrub the platters with a belt sander, dump in a bin somewhere away from your house. Even better than that, take an oxy-acetylene torch to them.

    An over-reaction? No, just sensible. Thanks to the paedoparanoia, even inadvertent possession of such images is essentially a strict liability offence. That this is contrary to natural justice is immaterial. It is the way the world works today.

    A decent member of society should regard the police in the same manner as sewage workers or rat-catchers: a necessary evil, but not the sort of people one would wish to associate with in daily life, except perhaps socially (and only after they’ve been well-scrubbed.)

    * with modern encoding schemes this renders the data unrecoverable, so all the rest is belt-and-braces. Residual data is only recoverable with obsolete encoding schemes like MFM, which no-one’s used for years. It is advisable to get a secure delete utility that can access all areas of the disk, not just the user-visible partitions.

  • David Gillies

    Anne, did you not read the article? He volunteered this information to the police and is now paying the price. If, by some whim of an unelected and un-fireable official in social services, his claim that this was an accident is not believed, he will be banned from seeing or even contacting his daughter ever again, he will be put on the sex offenders register for life, he will lose his livelihood, probably his house, likely his marriage and maybe even his life.

  • Anne On

    Well yes David i did read the article, and i came to the conclusion that, under the circumstances, informing the fuzz it was an accident might possibly be preferable to being bundled into the back of a van and charged with downloading indecent images. Its about weighing up which eventuality would suck the least.

    And nuking your hard drive does nothing to get rid of your logged actions, and what about the point of distribution, would you be happy to just leave the material available online for any other poor sap to download?

    As i implied in my first post though, i dont actually think the guy is legit, and find it quite difficult to believe you could download such material without actively looking for it.

  • The Fyrdman

    It certainly was possible a few years ago. When I may or may not have been using limewire to download films and music I may or may not have came across some rather stomach churning videos that may or may not have involved an octopus and a Japanese lady. The file had simply been renamed (presuming this occurred, I would never dream of using filesharing tools), probably by some numpty who thought it would be funny that someone would have this pop up on them instead of the Finnish death metal vids they were looking for.

  • Ian

    Same here, I called the police three years ago as the neighbours were supplying young children from around the area (c. 10 yrs old) with cigarettes. I asked the duty officer if this was legal. He sent an officer up to investigate (who said with a note of triumph in his voice that it was perfectly legal), and then the neighbours retaliated with a campaign of harassment, criminal damage, threats of violence etc. On the occasions when we called the police to report matters, the neighbours would escalate the harassment, to the point where we gave up calling the police because they would make things worse, not better. Perry de Havilland is spot on with his comments. Has he had dealings with the police himself?

  • Simon Jester

    ITT: The State Is Not Your Friend.

  • David Gillies

    By his own admission, he was doing something illegal, viz. trying to download pirated music. The sort of file-sharing websites where one does this are, intrinsically, full of stuff that is questionable at best and downright horrific at worst. This is exactly where one would be likely to ‘stumble upon’ kiddie porn. There is no way of ascertaining what you are looking at without downloading it. Even a preview would constitute ‘accessing’ the material.

    As for the 4am knock for viewing the material: who exactly is meant to be logging this activity, by what means would the authorities gain access to these logs, and how would they ascertain who was doing the downloading? The host is almost certainly out of UK jurisdiction, the logs are unlikely to store anything directly linking any given computer and even if they were, complete and secure removal of the images from the hard drive would render any case unprosecutable. Even in the disastrous Operation Ore, the wrongly accused were targeted on the basis of their credit card details having been found on a server seized in the investigation. However, let’s say the IP address of the machine accessing the image is logged and, in cooperation with UK police on a fishing expedition, authorities in the jurisdiction where the host is located seize it and turn the logs over. Then the police would have to demonstrate that that particular IP address, almost certainly issued out of a DHCP pool at the ISP, was associated with a given MAC address at that point. Do ISPs store this? I don’t know. Is it considered admissible as evidence? I don’t know. But if you don’t have any incriminating evidence on your machine, then any further action is vanishingly unlikely.

    Would I be happy to leave the material there for someone else to find? I am under no obligation whatever to draw the authorities’ attention to it, especially since, as we have seen, to do so is considered prima facie evidence of wrongdoing on my part. The US Bill of Rights even has an explicit provision against self-incrimination. Lying to the police about something will get you in trouble. Not talking to them almost never will.

    Finally, your vague suspicion that he might be a wrong ‘un is immaterial. A good deal more than that should be necessary to condemn someone. Under the circumstances, silence is the best policy.

  • Anne On

    Interesting points thoroughly made David and i agree with the gist of pretty much all of it.

    I think its safe to assume though that ISPs are obliged to keep records of which IPs they assign to their customers, and that they are easily retrieved by the law or the riaa or whoever should they need to be.

    The methods the authorities use to find such people is a mystery to me, all i know is that they can and do, this is probably all that Nigel knew also and i think its fair to say (accepting his story) that he was sh*tting himself, and ran through pretty much the same thought process that i had, namely that it was the lesser of two evils.

  • Along the lines of the, ahem, hypothetical situation noted by The Fyrdman, I read recently of a film company producing male homosexual pr0nography that would upload files of their wares on fire-sharing sites, suitably renamed to look like the latest pop music and bundled with a piece of tracking software. When the file was downloaded, the company would contact the hapless downloader and blackmail them into paying large sums of money, under threat of public shaming for looking at gay pr0n that they had no intention of ever receiving.

  • you had accidentally downloaded that material then surely it would be wise to let the rozzers know it was an accident,

    Er, why? Just delete the nasty stuff and run one of any number of security programs to 0/1 over unoccupied disc space… problem solved. It is almost never wise to involve the state in your affairs voluntarily.

  • Brian, follower of Deornoth

    Mastiff, that was a rather sadly old-fashioned of them, wasn’t it? Gay pr0n is about the only kind it is safe to have nowadays.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes – someone is hardly likely to inform the police against himself.

    So the man did NOT set out to download kiddy porn.

    However, (as Perry points out) he then made the astonishing mistake of getting the state involved in the whole thing. As if he thought he was dealing with Dixon of Dock Green.

    By the way – many people have all sorts of stuff on their hard drive without even knowing it.

    Never sell or dump a hard drive.

    Destroy it – destroy it utterly.

    I am very ignorant of computer matters – and even I know that.

  • Tedd

    Thanks to the paedoparanoia, even inadvertent possession of such images is essentially a strict liability offence.

    It can be worse even than that. In Canada, up until the supreme court struck down the statute, it was illegal to imagine that your hard drive had child porn on it, if you actually visualized the images in your head.

  • Alisa

    Tedd, it could be just me, but I think you’d need to elaborate on that one…

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Take that, you skeptics of psychic powers! Canada seems to have employed psychics to read your mind, so they can find out if you are even imagining your computer might have child pornography on it! (See Tedd’s article above this one.)
    I await Tedd for more details.