I was somewhat reluctant to password protect my WiFi. Having leeched off neighbors’ WiFi after a couple of moves until I could get my own Internet up, I felt hypocritical not extending the same courtesy to others. But ultimately, the desire for security won out. Specifically my fear that someone might use my connection for something untoward. Basically, I didn’t want to end up like this guy:
Lying on his family room floor with assault weapons trained on him, shouts of “pedophile!” and “pornographer!” stinging like his fresh cuts and bruises, the Buffalo homeowner didn’t need long to figure out the reason for the early morning wake-up call from a swarm of federal agents.
That new wireless router. He’d gotten fed up trying to set a password. Someone must have used his Internet connection, he thought.
“We know who you are! You downloaded thousands of images at 11:30 last night,” the man’s lawyer, Barry Covert, recounted the agents saying. They referred to a screen name, “Doldrum.”
“No, I didn’t,” he insisted. “Somebody else could have but I didn’t do anything like that.”
“You’re a creep … just admit it,” they said.For two hours that March morning in Buffalo, agents tapped away at the homeowner’s desktop computer, eventually taking it with them, along with his and his wife’s iPads and iPhones.
Within three days, investigators determined the homeowner had been telling the truth: If someone was downloading child pornography through his wireless signal, it wasn’t him. About a week later, agents arrested a 25-year-old neighbor and charged him with distribution of child pornography. The case is pending in federal court.
I don’t know if such SWAT teams exist in Callie. But it’s a headache no matter how you look at it. Of course, in addition to getting the wrong guy, there’s the question of whether something like this is really “SWAT team” material:
The trend towards the militarization of the police, brought to us first by the drug war, is quite disturbing. I am all for arresting people who break the law, but military approaches to law enforcement turn citizens, who are presumed innocent (lest we forget) into presumed enemies of the state. This is not an appropriate approach, especially when dealing with something as tenuous as an IP address for evidence. Even if a given cybercrime did originate in a given location, there is no way to know which person in said household committed the crime. To bust through the door, toss people to the ground and then start sorting things out is not what I want out of law enforcement agencies in a democracy.
There are two main justifications for this sort of raid. The first is that they fear retaliation and have to gain control of the situation quickly. The second is the fear of destroying evidence – in the case of drugs, flushing them down the toilet. There is very little reason to believe that either is the case here. Child pornography consumption does not exactly equate with “armed and dangerous.” And while it’s possible that they can delete the stuff, it’s getting harder and harder to delete stuff that cannot be recovered.
Further, these raids are non-trivial events. They are, in a sense, a punishment in itself. If they fear that they are being assaulted by hooligans, they can get their gun and end up dead on the floor. Or they could survive and spend the rest of their lives in prison for accidentally killing a police officer (though, if they get a police officer, they’re probably dead in any event). If they have a dog, there’s not a bad chance that the dog will be killed in the process. Even leaving aside the psychological effects, you’re putting this person at great risk.
Sometimes, it may be necessary. But it’s pretty hard to argue that – as bad as we may consider child pornography to be – accused consumers are a particularly dangerous group.
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