The Next Big Miscarriage of Justice

What would you think if I told you the police had accused 5,000 British citizens of a really unpleasant, despicable crime, the sort of thing where just being questioned is the kind of news that could destroy your family, career, and psyche, that some 39 of them had committed suicide as a result, but quite possibly every man-jack of them was innocent?

It would be like the Guildford Four case on steroids, right? All over the papers, public inquiries, years of litigation, every blowhard from Vanessa Redgrave to Tim Worstall joining the Free the 5,000 support group.

Well, they did it, and it’s not. In June, 2006, this blog mentioned an article in the Times by Duncan Campbell – that’s the Duncan Campbell of no-ricin not-plot fame, whose articles on this topic were retconned out of the Grauniad archive – which detailed the incredibly flaky evidence used by police in the Operation Ore child-porn case.

Amongst other things, the testimony of a US Postal Service inspector and a cop, both of whom swore that visitors to the website in question had to click a button marked “Click Here for Child Porn”, was exploded as nonsense (’twas actually a banner ad).

Now Campbell is back, with even worse news. Recap: the Texas-based website provided hosting and payments services to a large number of porno sites, under a revenue-sharing agreement. In 1999, police seized the box on which the SSL-encrypted credit card numbers were handled. Operation ORE consisted in going through the list of cards.

Unfortunately, the original file includes some 54,348 credit cards known to have been stolen or otherwise compromised.

The site’s operators had a curious relationship with credit card fraudsters. In its heyday, it was one of the easiest ways to get credit card merchant facilities, and hence an obvious opportunity if you had a list of other people’s cards. As 65 per cent of revenue from its customers went to the owners, they had a strong incentive to look the other way. At least, until the suckers began to spot unusual transactions – then, they raised chargebacks through the Visa dispute procedure. As Landslide was the merchant under VisaNet definitions, it had to pay up, and it was this that eventually bankrupted the site. Naturally, this was an advantage to the crook, as the cost of chargebacks fell on someone else.

The killer fact? Many of the credit cards presented for payment don’t correspond to the server log – to put it more brutally, a mysteriously large number of people were paying up in advance but not taking delivery of their smut. In fact, quite a lot of the websites that used Landslide contained no porn, nor anything else, existing purely for fraudulent purposes. The M.O. was to get hold of a list of cards – a black market exists – set up an account, and then run a script that would charge small amounts (say £25) to each, hoping that the payments would go unnoticed.

It should be quite clear from this that the police investigation in both the US and UK was spectacularly incompetent, overkeen to prove that they could keep up with Teh Interweb Menace, and probably conducted with one eye on future data-retention legislation. All prosecutions must stop, and there must be a full-dress public inquiry. The sheer scale of the case demands it.

This is, of course, an instance of everything we fear about the National Identity Register. Justice-by-database has the potential to generate injustice faster and more efficiently than any previous system. It’s time to stop the machine – anyone whose credit card was compromised before August, 1999 is a potential target.

Don’t miss the longer version of Campbell’s report from PC Pro (pdf link). I’d actually forgotten the little ha-gotcha that if they didn’t find anything on your computer, they’d charge you with “incitement”.

Did I mention the Home Office must be abolished?


  1. IanP

    are the victims of this scam reported by the BBC this morning to be investigated for terrorist funding?

    principle would be the same.

  2. Anonymous

    But if I remember correctly Operation Ore did give us the spectacle Pete Townsend and his “research”. Is a massive scandal of willful incompetence worth it for another celebrity nonce? Tough call.

  3. Neil

    Unfortunately for us, brave Anti-Tyranny freedom fighter Tim Worstall has prioritized his efforts on the pressing matter of compost (to the extent that he may be able to bitch about Teh Greens Movement).

    I’m not joking.

  4. john b

    Anon – if you read the piece, you’ll note that there was no evidence against Pete Townsend either – rather, he agreed to accept a caution because the police told him they’d get him sent to jail otherwise.

    Not a clever move in restrospect, since it convinced idiots like you of his guilt – but I’d recommend not judging until you’ve been presented with a choice of confession or jail-as-a-paedo by a grinning policeman convinced he’s solved the crime of the century…

    John B

  5. Fima Fimovich

    My name is Fima and I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
    I came to US as political refugee on human rights violations in former USSR
    I am russian jew, and I got a lot of discrimination in USSR
    My parents are Holocaust survivors.
    But I got the worst thing in USA, never possible in communist country.
    I was set up with my computer, convicted as a s..x offender for computer p..rn.
    Now I do not have job and can hardly survive under police database
    supervision, named s..x offender registration. Nobody want to hire me,
    I think because of police database.
    And I have family. Who cares? Dirty polititians are playing their
    dirty games for more power.
    I would like to send you some links to publications about my criminal
    case. I was forced to confess to the
    possession of internet digital pictures of p..rn in deleted clusters
    of my computer hard drive. My browser was hijacked while I was
    browsing the web. I was redirected to illegal sites against my will.
    Some illegal pictures were found on my hard drive, recovering in
    unallocated clusters, without dates of file creation/download.

    I do not know how courts can widely press these charges on people to
    convict them, while the whole Internet is a mess.
    You can find all links to publications about my case here

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