Friday, February 21, 2003

EBay tells law enforcement officers that their privacy policy is flexible. Which is to say that, as their "law enforcement and compliance officer" explained to cops at a cybercrime conference, they bend over backwards:

"We don't make you show a subpoena, except in exceptional cases," Sullivan told his listeners. "When someone uses our site and clicks on the `I Agree' button, it is as if he agrees to let us submit all of his data to the legal authorities. Which means that if you are a law-enforcement officer, all you have to do is send us a fax with a request for information, and ask about the person behind the seller's identity number, and we will provide you with his name, address, sales history and other details - all without having to produce a court order. We want law enforcement people to spend time on our site," he adds. He says he receives about 200 such requests a month, most of them unofficial requests in the form of an email or fax.

But remember, that fax has to be from a real law enforcement officer. Or at least, someone who has managed to filch their letterhead.

The same policy applies to most customer records for PayPal, which EBay owns. They need to see a court order for credit card transactions, apparently due to eeeeevil laws which just don't let eBay be as friendly as it would like. But the article I'm quoting suggests they're more willing to share information on payments that went entirely through PayPal.

In fact, eBay's cooperation with law enforcement has gone a whole lot farther than that:

In his lecture, Sullivan spoke about how he helped investigators locate a user who had been suspected of selling stolen cars through the site. "We tried to buy the car from the thief and in that way incriminate him. But the bad guy was smart. He saw there wasn't a single feedback in the history of the person who was making the purchase. He told us he didn't want to make a deal with us."

Sullivan explained that the incident taught the company a lesson, and that since then it has used pseudo buyers for which it constructs comprehensive simulated histories, including simulated feedbacks, all for the sake of incriminating those suspected of theft. ...

Sullivan is even more forthcoming. Aware of how hard the police work, he decided to help as much as possible. "Tell us what you want to ask the bad guys. We'll send them a form, signed by us, and ask them your questions. We will send their answers directly to your e-mail." Essentially, by engaging in what seems like impersonation, eBay is exploiting its relationship with customers to pass on information to law enforcement authorities.

Remember, they're doing this all to help law enforcement keep us safe. Which is a very, very big job. Why in Denver, the local cops' tracking of "criminal extremists" extended to a nun upsetting the social order by teaching destitute Indians, and another woman who was creating a center for social discontent by running a soup kitchen.

Like I said, it's a very big job, and they clearly need all the help they can get, but EBay is giving it to them, without any pesky probably cause requirements or court oversight to get in the way. Now don't you feel secure?

(This has been all over; seen among other places at Nathan Newman).


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