Here’s the bare bones of a movie plot I’ve dreamed up. OK, I didn’t dream it up — as you can see from the headlines, this is actually happening.
Over a period of months, someone had been calling the 911 services of cities around North America with false emergency calls and bomb threats. There were at least 30 such calls. One high school in Calgary was shut down by such a prank, called “swatting” because the local police force needs to call out its special weapons group.
Eventually, police in Ottawa tracked down a 16-year-old kid who was foolish enough to brag about his exploits, and who even invited suggestions online for his next pranks. He even posted a photo of a Bitcoin account, suggesting he could be paid to do this.
Guess what happens next?
Last May, the kid is walking home with his parents and a bunch of plainclothes Ottawa police have him slammed to the ground.
They also have a warrant to search the house and what do they find? High tech stuff and firearms.
The kid is facing a long list of charges. His dad protests the boy’s innocence. He claims the authorities won’t listen to them or look further for the real culprit(s).
Then things get interesting. The online activist group Anonymous gets involved. They support the kid.
They send the dad a trove of electronic information that he says exonerates his son.
Here’s how he described it to a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen: “Think of it this way: There’s a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that has been thrown on a table. You have no idea of what the jigsaw will ultimately look like, but you have this little piece with an alias, and this piece with a website and this piece with a domain registration.”
This little piece is where the techie details leave me behind, and I’m forced to believe what I see, because I don’t have the tools to disbelieve it.
But the dad, who works privately as a web designer himself, seems to understand. Good enough, I’m not falling asleep at the movie just yet.
Then the Citizen reporter gets a tweet during an interview: “I hear you’re talking with the youth’s father right now.”
Later, during a phone conversation with the father: “Just got word that the youth might be speaking to media in the coming days.”
This was over the last weekend. After the websites of the Ottawa Police, the City of Ottawa, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Parliament of Canada and the federal Conservative Party were all serially shut down by denial of service attacks.
I had to look this up: denial of service attacks are not hacking. No data is stolen in such attacks; robot computers are simply instructed to request certain web pages so fast and so frequently that their servers get shut down.
But other reports suggest data would be stolen. “We’re going to completely rape those sites,” said a message reported in the Ottawa Sun.
That I would take seriously. Anonymous has a reputation. Just ask the Church of Scientology. Or the credit card companies who refused to transact donations to the defence funds of WikiLeaks whistle-blowers.
One Ottawa detective and the Ottawa police chief’s private phone numbers and email addresses were published.
This weekend, the dad and his lawyer, Joshua Clark, showed reporters light bulbs that had been altered to become listening devices.
I wouldn’t recognize a listening device rigged into in a compact fluorescent light bulb if someone shoved it in my ear and turned it on.
More, I wouldn’t know how some teenager’s dad could successfully fake doing that, to falsely discredit a police investigation. So I tend to believe what I see.
We are told the dad was coached to look for them and find them in his home, by Anonymous.
So here we are in the movie: some dumbass is faking 911 calls, which is an incredibly stupid thing to do. Someone saw fit to put listening devices in somebody’s home. A kid gets arrested. A global self-appointed watchdog with a strong reputation for online mischief and random acts of activism decides to work on the kid’s behalf.
In an environment where corporations and governments seem able to spy on us at will, who do you believe? The police or the people in the Guy Fawkes masks? And if they are spying on us, wouldn’t it be nice if they could guarantee their information was correct?
Either the kid is a little pisser who deserves everything that’s coming to him or the police are blinded by tunnel vision, or society needs a geek squad to protect us from the people we pay a whole lot of money to protect us.
This is a movie we can watch unfold in real time. I just hope nobody gets hurt in the real world. And that, in the end, we still have a shred of privacy and the right of free speech to preserve.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.