Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

The story of the broken laptop

By now you may have seen The Broken Laptop I Sold On eBay, a site created to humiliate an eBay seller who sold a laptop which turned out to be broken and not to the specification that the description on eBay stated. The site includes various documents that were left on the hard drive, including a lot of pornography, pictures of womens’ legs taken with a camera phone on the Underground, a copy of the owner’s passport and his CV.

The tale took a twist on Monday when the police got involved after the seller of the laptop complained. He was also interviewed by the Daily Mail, where he said he was “shaking all over”. It’s likely that he may now sue for libel through a civil case.

As you know, computer crime is something that interests me – heck, I’m doing a degree in it – so as you can imagine I’ve been following this. If this does go to court, it’ll be interesting to see what evidence is used on either sides. The seller’s eBay rating is very poor, having had 3 negative feedbacks (and only 1 positive), which doesn’t make him look particularly honest. Also, if I was selling any device capable of storing data on eBay I would wipe it first, using something like Eraser – I wouldn’t leave my private information on there, nor allow for it to be recovered after a reformat.

Each side would also have to prove where the data came from – the defendant would need to prove that the data was on the hard disk when it arrived, and the plaintiff would need to be able to prove otherwise. File creation and modification times may give some clue to this but it depends how the disk drive has been handled since it was received by the defendant. Generally in computer forensics investigations the first thing you would do, upon receiving a seized computer, is to take the hard disk out and create a byte-perfect image of it (which would include all deleted data as well) on another machine, and then work on the image so as not to tamper with the original evidence on the disk. By switching a computer on after seizure, you are tampering with evidence. You can read the ACPO guidelines here (PDF).

This is all necessary because we’re dealing with libel here, which is essentially defamation of character through false written information. There’s little doubt that the plaintiff’s character has been defamed, but the court would need to decide whether the information is false, or whether he essentially brought it on himself.

Please remember that I’m just a student – I’m not a lawyer and hold no legal qualifications, so this does not qualify as legal advice or expert opinion – it’s just my view. But in any case this could be interesting and one to keep watching.

One Comment

  1. It’s funny – i read the headline as something that YOU had posted on ebay and thought it very good that you had done the website!
    I hope the seller is too ashamed to ever go out on the streets ever again – however I do feel sorry for some of the unfortunate people that also feature on some of the photo’s as they probably are an invasion of privacy in that they are innocent bystanders to the scam.