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“Stealing” Facebook Photos A Crime

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Saturday August 20, 2011 )

An Australian journalist was recently arrested for allegedly being in receipt of photos taken from a breached Facebook account.

According to an article on The Age, having a photo taken from a Facebook account without being granted permission by the owner is currently being considered by Queensland Police as basically the same as having stolen goods in your possession.

One of the major issues from what I can gather was the fact the photos shouldn’t have been accessible due to the Facebook account owner’s privacy settings, so a “hack” of sorts was involved (the journalist wasn’t involved in acquiring the photos).

If privacy settings are such a person doesn’t have access and needs to actively circumvent those settings in order to gain access, I guess it is a little like unlawful entry; and then to take something from that section, akin to theft.

I get the impression the Queensland police are really scratching their heads as to how to proceed on this one and they have referred to it as a “test case”. But there’s all sorts of other issues here, including journalists being able to protect their sources, having access to the materials they need to report on stories and such.

You can read the full transcript of the police interview the journalist here.

It’s not like the police didn’t have enough on their plates with offline incidents; now they are increasingly having to contend with online issues such as cyberbullying, scams, hacks and such.. and it has all happened so fast.

It’s amazing the impact Facebook has had here in Australia in its few years of open access. Last night while watching TV, I heard/saw references to it at least a dozen times in two hours – worked into scripts of sitcoms, as a reference point for reality TV shows and in ads.

I find it hard to believe it was just a decade ago I was trying to persuade local businesses they should be crowing about their web site (if they had one) in all their advertising material – and often getting funny looks in the process.

But far from being a place to just hawk our wares, Facebook and other social networks are weaving themselves into so many aspects of our lives – and it’s perhaps not always a good thing. The Australian ABC has an interesting article on related issues, entitled “Trial By Social Media A Threat To Justice”.

Social media is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Like tools such as chain saws and nail guns, usage can result in massive damage if wielded by the unskilled or simply thoughtless… and let’s face it, many people using these tools would fall into those categories.

Many simply do not think before clicking the “submit” button. It’s these same people who will often squawk when they are bailed up about whatever they have written; claiming their rights to freedom of speech – but not understanding that doesn’t necessarily mean freedom from accountability.

As the years go on, I become a little more disappointed in how the Internet is evolving. But it’s not the Internet as such, the technology is wonderful – it’s just revealing more about human nature generally speaking. I don’t think we’ve evolved to the point of deserving this amazing tool as it stands. It’s a little sad.

Ben Elton’s “Blind Faith” continually springs to mind these days. It’s set in a world where social media participation is compulsory, sharing everything about yourself is obligatory, vicious gossip and misinformation is socially acceptable and encouraged; and where “only perverts do things in private”.


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