Raid Me

by David Fisher / 09 August, 2008
If you thought the personal details you revealed to Trade Me would remain private, think again. Names, phone numbers and addresses of thousands of traders have ended up in the hands of people facing charges.

Jamie Lockett has a complicated life. And last month it became even more complicated.

While in custody, he received discovery documents from the Crown about a firearms-related prosecution connected to the so-called terror raids last year.

It's a standard practice in law: the prosecution must provide the defence with any information relevant to the case. It often means masses of paperwork delivered to defence lawyers on behalf of their clients. Lockett, who prides himself on being a good bush lawyer, decided to use his time to consider the case against him.

Sixteen heavy boxes containing 24,000 pages were sent. In the box marked No 11 Lockett found page after page of names and addresses. A closer look uncovered copies of web pages from Trade Me, the popular Kiwi auction site.

Danny Toresen, chief operating officer of Paragon NZ, the country's largest private investigation firm, describes the information as a "shopping list for criminals" if it wound up in the wrong hands.

"Home addresses could be targeted and put under surveillance, and selective burglaries could occur just to take specific items." Toresen says an enterprising criminal could copy the information and sell it to underworld figures. "The important correlation in the information is the goods to an address. As a shopping list, it has value."

Lockett says he knew instantly what the box contained: thousands of personal details of Trade Me members from around the country, covering trades over a five-year period. The information is set out in grid on more than 300 pages of the 2580 pages in the box, with most pages holding 15-25 auction details.

Box No 11 contains the details of at least 5000 and as many as 10,000 Trade Me customers - name, username, personal email, telephone numbers, home address and what was traded.

"I was horrified, absolutely horrified for anyone that wants privacy within the Trade Me database," Lockett says. "It's an absolute disgrace. They've given me names and addresses of a woman selling baby monitors five lines above [a trader] selling an AK-47-style rifle. I've got her home address, home phone number and her name - and many more. Thousands more."

The same information would have been sent to many, if not all, of those facing charges from the botched "terrorism" investigation. Lockett - now out of custody, trying to deal with finding work and his continuing campaign against police - says what others do with the information is their business but he's not letting it out of his sight.

It is hard to see the relevance of many of those whose details are contained in box No 11.

Lockett says he has no intention of misusing the information. It is the existence of it that he says troubles him - the multitude of similar boxes floating about the country containing personal details of unsuspecting Trade Me users who would have expected to remain anonymous.

One man whose details are in the Trade Me box is a regular firearms trader. The Listener has not contacted the individual for fear of interfering with the police case against Lockett and others. And for his safety, the Listener will not name him.

But with a simple search for his Trade Me username, it is possible to trace the trader's recent sales and purchases. Most recently, he bought "100 rounds of 7.62 x 51 (7.62 NATO)" ammunition - the military-designed "full metal jacket" bullets made for the AK-47 military assault rifle.

The trader's history also shows he recently bought firearms, including target rifles and the AK-47-style SKS military rifle. Alongside one of his first deals, his personal details are listed in the information provided by police to the Urewera defendants.

These details sit in box No 11 alongside those of a mother of three children. Her name, trader name, home address and phone number are listed with a collection of trades - for My Little Pony books. Again, the Listener won't name the woman or identify where she lives for fear of exacerbating privacy and safety concerns.

But she was horrified. "It certainly makes me think twice about Trade Me. I can understand the police going for a search warrant, but I think they have given them far too much," she says. "I'm quite shocked by it all, particularly the channels it came through." She is adamant she has no connection with any of those charged in relation to the Urewera raids. "Absolutely not."

Solicitor-General David Collins ruled out any charges being laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act, rendering warrants issued in the investigation invalid, which meant the evidence gathered using those warrants could not be used.

Nineteen people are being charged in connection with the raids, including Lockett, mainly for alleged breaches of the Firearms Act.

Detective Sergeant Aaron Pascoe, of the police's Special Investigation Group, is cautious when discussing the case. The last result he wants at trial is no result, but says he will address the information obtained by search warrant from Trade Me. "The onus on us is to disclose anything that is potentially relevant to the defence. That's the issue: what is potentially relevant for a defence lawyer."

Pascoe says there are grounds for withholding information but "the defence lawyers may or may not have some use in speaking to those people". He would not expand on what use some of the more obscure trades - like the My Little Pony books - might have in prosecuting or defending the case. "We are bound by disclosure laws as to what's potentially relevant."

Pascoe says it is possible to look at individual details and question the relevance - but the question of relevance was for the defence. "The rules I am bound by are to ensure we have a trial that is not impacted by a lack of disclosure."

Those who expected the Privacy Act to protect their information will be disappointed. Once a matter enters the judicial process, the Act applies but is subject to exemptions and exclusions aimed at ensuring all relevant documents are disclosed to the parties involved. And Trade Me's website does warn traders that information will be released under certain circumstances. "We release account and other personal information only when we believe release is appropriate to comply with law; facilitate court proceedings; enforce or apply our terms and conditions; or protect the rights, property, or safety of Trade Me Limited, our users, or others."

In this case, Trade Me's security manager, Dean Winter, a former police detective, says the company complied with a search warrant from the police. "Once [the information] has been passed to police we have absolutely no control over it."

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