Is 'stealing' private Facebook photos just like stealing TVs?

An Australian reporter found himself arrested after writing about how private Facebook photos can be made public by hackers. No joke.

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Here’s a tale of wonder from the land down under.

It seems that stealing photos from someone’s Facebook account without their permission is the same as stealing televisions – at least, according to members of the police department in Queensland, Australia. Worse, the simple act of writing about how someone stole photos off Facebook -- using one of those photos as proof -- is like receiving stolen goods and can get you arrested.

Sound like a bad made-for-TV-movie plot? It isn’t. It just happened to 20-year-old reporter Ben Grubb, who found himself briefly detained after writing a story for the Sydney Morning Herald about a security flaw in Facebook.

Grubb was reporting the findings of security researcher Christian Heinrich, who demo’d his hack attack at the AusCERT security conference. Using essentially a brute force attack on external servers employed by Facebook to deliver media, Heinrich managed to obtain photos marked “private” from the wife of rival security wonk Chris Gatford.

Presumably, Gatford didn’t like that his wife was the unwitting subject of Heinrich’s demo. Somebody called the cops. And the cops decided, for reasons unknown, to detain and question Grubb, and to confiscate his iPad as “evidence.”

The illogic of this is beyond stunning. Per Queensland Police Detective Superintendent Brian Hay:

"Someone breaks into your house and they steal a TV and they give that TV to you and you know that TV is stolen," he said.

"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."

Except that this isn’t like receiving stolen goods. It’s more like somebody demonstrating that a Best Buy store is not properly secured against burglars by breaking in, taking a picture of a TV they could have stolen, putting that photo into a slide show, then giving it to a reporter as proof.

And then you arrest the reporter? Seriously? In what universe does that make sense?

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