Business PC caught in DIA porn swoop

Small-office home-office users should be careful who else might be using their computers, or another computer on the same premises, possibly for dubious purposes.

Small-office home-office users should be careful who else might be using their computers, or another computer on the same premises, possibly for dubious purposes.

The entire ICT infrastructure of the home business could be gutted by law enforcement on the strength of even vague suspicions.

It can apparently even be risky for a user to send his/her own PC to a colleague for repair unless that colleague is squeaky-clean.

In a recent case in Christchurch, a teenager had strayed into an internet relay chat (IRC) channel which happened to be under the surveillance of an inspector from the department of Internal Affairs.

The inspector engaged him in conversation and, the boy’s father says, egged him on to send erotic material of an increasing degree of “hardness”. This is the DIA’s normal approach, as it can only get a search warrant for porn if it has firm evidence of trading, and that means receiving an illegal file from the suspect.

More than a year later, DIA officers turned up at the home-office with a search warrant, and took away the boy’s PC, his father’s business machine and a computer belonging to an uninvolved friend, who had sent it to the boy for investigation of a fault.

According to the father, the magistrate who issued the search warrant did not even examine the images in question; nor were they sent to the Classification Office for a formal rating. The worst that the boy sent, says his father, was a picture of an adult woman, which might have marginally stepped outside the law on a technical question of the angle and closeness of the photograph.

The father says he was deprived of his computer “only for about a month” and that the handicapping of his business was “not serious”. But he confirms that he had to go to the DIA’s local offices at least once and request a copy of information he needed to carry on his business.

The situation was still apparently unresolved, and the hard disks from both the father’s and the son’s machine were still impounded as at earlier this month.

“We have had to buy and install new drives,” the father says. Inspectors haven’t found anything likely to be illegal so far, he says. “In fact I don’t think they’ve started looking.”

The acting head of the DIA’s censorship and gaming division, Peter Burke, won’t comment on the case, citing the Privacy Act.

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