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'Our bad', says stupid police media tweet

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Queensland Police have told a press conference in Queensland that they did indeed arrest tech journalist Ben Grubb in their investigation of a Facebook vulnerability demonstrated at Australia’s AusCERT conference on Sunday.

The arrest has outraged both the IT community and Australian media.

The police media unit had originally said that the Fairfax writer had not been arrested, but had been questioned, and his iPad had been retained. This was later corrected in a brief and insensitive Tweet in which the media unit said “Our bad @bengrubb was arrested for questioning briefly Our tweet last night was based on information provided at the time Apologies” (sic).

Speaking to the press conference, Detective Superintendent Brian Hay said the mixed message arose from the gap between the media unit and the investigation team. He also noted that recent changes to Queensland law draw a distinction between someone being arrested “for questioning” and someone who’s arrested under suspicion of a crime.

He confirmed that the police are investigating the Facebook URL vulnerability demonstrated by Christian Heinrich on Sunday, in which the security researcher demonstrated gaining access to privacy-protected Facebook photographs of a rival researcher’s wife.

The investigation was, Hay said, in response to a specific complaint about the presentation. “The complaint was in respect of the hacking incident that saw the private picture being obtained,” he said.

He declined to comment on whether or not police have spoken to Heinrich, saying that the information was too specific to the current investigation. Heinrich has since left the conference and Queensland.

Detective superintendent Hay said Gribb’s arrest “was for the purpose of the investigation – there is no charge pending,” adding that “the interview had commenced with no arrest taking place.”

Since the police’s powers when someone is arrested for questioning include a power to “secure property” relevant to an investigation, El Reg assumes that the arrest occurred so as to invoke those powers and take possession of Grubb’s iPad.

“If police feel someone’s in possession of a product or a piece of evidence that’s material to the investigation, we can … take possession of that,” he said.

Hay also gave a backhander to what he regards as a laissez faire attitude in the security industry, saying that various “black hat” conferences still regard breaking into systems as something of a game, in which “crimes may have been committed”. ®

Correction: A reader has alerted El Reg to a small correction. The Heinrich presentation was at the BSidesAU conference, which runs extra security sessions alongside AusCERT. ®

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