I understand the process by which Trade Me was obliged to provide information on the thousands of people who traded with eight suspects charged after last year's "terror raids", and that the police were obliged to provide that evidence to defence lawyers. But I'm damned if I'd want my name, address and trading records in the hands of Jamie Lockett.
Ironically, it's Lockett himself who spoke to The Listener's David Fisher for the story that brought the issue to light. (That's the story just before the eight pages of don't-worry-be-happy drivel that constitutes a cover story). "It's an absolute disgrace," Lockett tells Fisher.
Not so much. Imagine if a prosecution failed because defence lawyers were able to argue that the police had withheld evidence. Whatever prosecutions might be secured against the other seven defendants, they do not strike me as the kind of people who would employ the information as "a shopping list for criminals". Perhaps Lockett isn't either: but given that there is reason to believe that the original police affidavit passed through his hands on its way to the internet, I'm sure I'd rather he didn't have this stuff.
What we're seeing is a reminder that the people who provide services for us on the internet often hold our private information in trust. The peril that they might accidentally release it, or be compelled to provide it to lawyers, is always present.
I'd be more exercised if this were a civil case such as that between Google and Viacom over the viewing habits of millions of YouTube users. Happily the two companies have reached an agreement by which Google will anonymise the data before hand them over to Viacom. The same agreement will apply to other litigants seeking to bring copyright action against Google.
I suspect Trade Me would not have been able to bargain in such a way in this case. But I hope these events have provoked some thought about how it will handle such requests in future. The dating of the advisory email -- Sunday, after The Listener reached subscribers -- suggests that nobody thought ahead this time.
Anyway, here's that email:
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2008 16:40:49 +1200
Subject: Release Of Information
We are writing to make you aware of the provision of some of your personal information to the New Zealand Police.
The Police served a search warrant on Trade Me requiring information on people who had traded with 8 suspects associated with the “Urewera Raids” late last year. We are compelled by law to provide information in response to search warrants.
Some of your information was amongst that provided. There is no suggestion that you were in any way related to these events last year, apart from being one of 3000 who traded with someone that was a suspect in this investigation.
If you have any more questions in respect of the matter, the Police Detective leading the investigation is Aaron Pascoe (xxxxxxx@xxxxxxx).
We are sorry to have to bring this to your attention, but given current media focus on the issue we believed we should make you aware of the situation.
If you have concerns in respect of how we have acted in relation to the Privacy Act 1993, you can make complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (http://www.privacy.org.nz/ )
Trade Me Support
Just so you know …
PS: It's nice to see Radio Live's complaints committee decide not to stonewall on Cindy Kiro's complaint about being baselessly slimed by Michael Laws on his radio show. It would be even better to hear Laws himself own up to his own despicable bullshit.