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Whacked with a Clue

Associated Press
Frankfurt Germany



Forgive me for my boldness, but I think this might be of interest to some news agent, somewhere - and hopefully publicity would put pressure on the Greek government to clean up their act.

My sambo - Rick Downes, a Swedish citizen, was arrested this morning by the Greek police, though he was 'released immediately'. This is the man behind the companies Rixstep.com and Radsoft.net; both are reputable computer software companies and strongly against spamming. In fact, he has more than a few articles on his sites instructing people how to avoid being the victims of spam or allowing their computers to become spam relays. This arrest was on paper, because he is disabled and really couldn't tolerate a night in jail. The police originally told us it was an issue about a car rental from the summer and they needed his signature, could we come to the police station. When he got up, he said he wasn't feeling fit enough to travel into town, so I called them and asked if they couldn't come here, explaining his physical limitations.

The charge is apparently something to do with either selling drugs or spamming. What we were told was that three people who met Rick later began to receive spams advertising drugs like Viagra and Valium. Since he is innocent of this, there is obviously no real connection between him and these emails. It actually seems that the police and the judge who issued the warrant for his arrest have not looked for any evidence before arresting him. The papers we were shown were 1) a copy of an email (legitimate) from Rick to a travel agent describing the results of an investigation he'd done for her into a website she contracted with. 2) two copies of emails (falsely) appearing to originate from ACNielsen.com advertising pharmaceuticals for sale addressed to the same travel agent. She and two of her friends have apparently compared notes and concluded that since they all met Rick before they received these particular emails, he must be responsible. No document we were shown displayed even a remote possible connection between Rick and the spams.

We tried to explain to the police that what most likely happened is that the travel agent's computer is compromised and that her address book (including the addresses of her two friends who've met Rick) has been harvested for use by spammers, but they are Greek and it's a bit like talking to a dog about nuclear physics - everything we said was over their heads, no matter how dumbed down we made it.

At some point after understanding that they weren't here to collect a signature about a rental car, I asked if he should get a lawyer - they said, 'no, do not worry'. Much later, they told us they would be taking away his computer - by order of the judge. At this point, I told him we were getting a lawyer. Which turned out to be a good thing. The 'translator' they brought with them was a police woman who spoke good English, but not good enough to translate everything the policemen said. I'd estimate her English is about 70% - not good enough for legal matters. She wrote what she said was Rick's statement in Greek, which he can't read (yet). She told him he'd have to sign it - I had already asked our lawyer if he had to sign the statement since it was in Greek, she said he didn't have to, but if we could get our English/Greek friend to translate it and he would sign it that would be better than refusing to sign it. When they told him to sign it, he said he couldn't read it and would wait until our friend arrived to translate. They said that our friend wouldn't be permitted to translate or even read the document, and that if Rick didn't sign, they would take him to jail, disabled or not. On hearing this obvious (illegal) coercion tactic, I called our lawyer again. After speaking to her, the police said she could, indeed, translate - the statement was fine so Rick signed it.

I think our most salient points in this story are these:

1. They have no evidence. I don't mean they don't have strong evidence, I mean absolutely no evidence. That three friends have all received the same spam is no surprise, if one is familiar with email harvesting trojans and the like.

2. They attempted to make him sign a statement he couldn't read by telling him he'd go to jail if he didn't.

3. We were not told the charges, or who brought them against him, even when we directly asked. When I asked if he needed a lawyer, they didn't mention that he was to be arrested, they simply and directly told me a lawyer was not necessary.

4. He is a computer security expert, a crusader against spam, now arrested for spamming - mostly because the Greeks are so far behind the majority of Europe in computer science. Even a small time hobbyist would probably be able to tell them about email headers, IP addresses, spam relays, address harvesting trojans and all the rest, but because they are so undereducated, a completely innocent person is arrested, his property is confiscated, and we now have the expense of a lawyer.

I'd appreciate any response on this, I think it would be of interest to the computer science public and Europeans in general, but you are the professional.

If you can help in any way in this matter, write to me at legal@rixstep.com.



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