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November 7, 2014

Five ways tech tampers with crime

The world's police hit back against Silk Road, Pirate Bay, and Silicon Valley.

By Jimmy Nicholls

It has been a busy week for the world’s cyber police, or at least a busy week for their public image. Like the hackers they track, internet cops often work unseen and unheard of for months, but the last seven days have been different. Here’s a recap of what went on.

1) New GCHQ chief attacks Twitter and Facebook

In one of his first acts as the head of the British snooping agency GCHQ, Robert Hannigan chastised technology firms for the part they played in the spread of Islamic State (IS) propaganda in the Middle East.

Writing in the Financial Times, the civil servant accused the social networks Twitter, Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp of becoming "the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us."

His comments followed those of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey, who criticised Silicon Valley for improving its privacy technologies last month.

2) German police raid homes in anti-piracy strike

Following a filing by the German anti-piracy outfit GVU, police decided to take action against the linking website Boerse.bz.

400 cops raided 121 homes as part of the operation, seizing computers and hard drives but making no arrests. Some of those hit by the raid were even said to be cooperating with the police.

Despite the raid Boerse.bz remained online, accused by GVU of offering more than 100,000 copyrighted files without the permission of their owners.

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3) Final Pirate Bay founder arrested in Thailand

It has been a tough year for the three founders of the Pirate Bay, the most renowned source of pirated content on the internet, when Fredrik Neij was arrested in Thailand.

He had fled Sweden to live with his wife and children in Laos on being convicted of assisting others in copyright infringement, but was making frequent incursions into the neighbouring country to access services unavailable in his adopted home.

Following his arrest and deportation he is expected to spend ten months in jail, only a week after his Pirate Bay colleague Gottfrid Warg was convicted of hacking in Denmark. The other partner Peter Sunde is currently serving time in Sweden for his part in the site.

4) Silk Road taken down as third chief arrested

The resilience of the online drugs marketplace was again called into question as international police collaborated to bring down the network for a second time.

One of 17 arrests across North American and Europe, Blake "Defcon" Benthall now stands accused of resurrecting the ecommerce site for contraband goods, and could face life in prison if convicted.

American spooks were able to infiltrate the support group for Silk Road to collect evidence of its activities, and have claimed the site was generating sales of $8m per month in September.

5) Alleged murderer linked to photos on 4chan

The image board 4chan has never enjoyed a glowing reputation among internet aficionados, and attracted the ire of the mainstream press for its role in leaking naked celebrity photos earlier this year.

Yet now the site has suffered a further abuse as photos of the corpse of Amber Coplin emerged, alongside details of how she had been killed, and a description of how she would later be found by her son, which the police said proved true.

Her boyfriend David Kalac was later arrested on suspicion of murder, and is now the police’s primary suspect. The photos were deleted from the site shortly after being posted.

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