Thursday, May 25, 2006

Germany Hits Internet File-Swappers with Criminal Charges

In the largest single action aimed at curbing internet piracy in Germany, charges have been pressed against 3,500 users of the popular file-swapping network eDonkey.

In a joint action by the German police and the Cologne Public Prosecutor's Office, some 130 apartments were raided state-wide on Tuesday in search of evidence for illegal file sharing on the internet.

As a result of the action, more than 3,500 users of the file-swapping network eDonkey have been identified and hit with criminal charges for breach of copyright. They are now facing fines of up to 15,000 euros ($19,000) or prison sentences of up to three years.

"This was the largest action against illegal file-sharing offers on the internet that has ever been carried out in Germany," said public prosecutor Jürgen Krautkremer.

Illegal file sharing is usually thought of as the favorite pastime of the younger generation of internet users, but the state-wide, coordinated swoop by the German police reveals a different story.

"Contrary to popular belief, (illegal file sharing) is by no means about young people only," Krautkremer said.

People of all ages were found to be engaged in illegal, copyright-violating activities.

An internet hunt

A couple of months ago, according to Krautkremer, investigators started monitoring a server located in the German city of Hürth, southwest of Cologne. The server, whose owners are not being prosecuted, was itself connected to the eDonkey peer-to-peer network for data exchange.

Using a special piece of software, developed by the International Federation of Phonographic Industry, the investigators profiled and analyzed some 800,000 records , including a 14-gigabyte log file which contained around 40,000 internet addresses.

Individual users were identified with the help of internet providers, and search warrants were issued for those users who could be proved to have shared more than 500 files or, approximately, 25 to 30 CDs during the period under observation.

Positive reactions

The music industry greeted the outcome of the police action in Germany.

"No one should be surprised that we are stepping up our campaign in this way," said John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

"Internet piracy has hurt the whole music community in Germany, with legitimate sales falling by a third in just five years," he said.

According to IFPI, some 400 million copyright infringing music files were downloaded illegally last year in Germany.

"When music gets stolen, there is less money left to invest in new musicians," Kennedy said.

Deutsche Welle 05/2006

Online scams create "Yahoo! millionaires"

By Leonard Lawal, FORTUNE
May 22, 2006: 3:28 PM EDT

In Lagos, where scamming is an art, the quickest path to wealth for the cyber-generation runs through a computer screen.

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Akin is, like many things in cyberspace, an alias. In real life he's 14. He wears Adidas sneakers, a Rolex Submariner watch, and a kilo of gold around his neck.

Akin, who lives in Lagos, is one of a new generation of entrepreneurs that has emerged in this city of 15 million, Nigeria's largest. His mother makes $30 a month as a cleaner, his father about the same hustling at bus stations. But Akin has made it big working long days at Internet cafes and is now the main provider for his family and legions of relatives.

Call him a "Yahoo! millionaire."

Akin buys things online - laptops, BlackBerries, cameras, flat-screen TVs - using stolen credit cards and aliases. He has the loot shipped via FedEx or DHL to safe houses in Europe, where it is received by friends, then shipped on to Lagos to be sold on the black market. (He figures Americans are too smart to sell a camera on eBay to a buyer with an address in Nigeria.)

Akin's main office is an Internet cafe in the Ikeja section of Lagos. He spends up to ten hours a day there, seven days a week, huddled over one of 50 computers, working his scams.

And he's not alone: The cafe is crowded most of the time with other teenagers, like Akin, working for a "chairman" who buys the computer time and hires them to extract e-mail addresses and credit card information from the thin air of cyberspace. Akin's chairman, who is computer illiterate, gets a 60 percent cut and reserves another 20 percent to pay off law enforcement officials who come around or teachers who complain when the boys cut school. That still puts plenty of cash in Akin's pocket.

A sign at the door of the cafe reads, WE DO NOT TOLERATE SCAMS IN THIS PLACE. DO NOT USE E-MAIL EXTRACTORS OR SEND MULTIPLE MAILS OR HACK CREDIT CARDS. YOU WILL BE HANDED OVER TO THE POLICE. NO 419 ACTIVITY IN THIS CAFE. The sign is a joke; 419 activity, which refers to the section of the Nigerian law dealing with obtaining things by trickery, is a national pastime. There are no coherent laws relating to e-scams, the police are mostly computer illiterate, and penalties for financial crimes are light.
No penalties for breaking the law

"The deterrent factor is not there at all," says Thomas Oli, a Lagos lawyer, citing the case of a former police inspector general who was convicted of stealing more than $100 million and got only six months in jail.

"What do you want me to do?" Akin asks in pidgin English, explaining why he turned to a life of Internet crime. "It is my God-given talent. Our politicians, they do their own; me, I'm doing my own. I feed my family - my sister, my mother, my popsie. Man must survive."

The scams perpetrated by Akin and his comrades are many and varied: moneygram interceptions, Western Union hijackings, check laundering, identity theft, and outright begging, with tall tales of dying relatives and large sums of money in search of safe haven. One popular online fraud often practiced by women (or boys pretending to be women) involves separating lonely men from their money.

Attempts to speak to government officials about Internet crime were futile. They all claimed ignorance of such scams; some laughed it off as Western propaganda.

But last November the Economic Fraud and Financial Crimes Commission won a high-profile case that had dragged on for years against Emmanuel Nwude, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years for bilking a Brazilian bank out of $242 million using an Internet scam involving phony bank drafts. The commission is also pursuing a case against 419 kingpin Fred Ajudua, a lawyer and businessman accused of using the Internet to steal $1 million from a victim in Germany.

Some officials, who asked not be identified, said young people are drawn to Internet crime as a way of getting back at a society that has no plans for them. Others see it as a form of reparation for the sins of the West.

Or as Akin puts it, "White people are too gullible. They are rich, and whatever I gyp them out of is small change to them." 05/2006

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Life Between Drugs, Work and Hierarchy for German Prisoners

Germany's 200 prisons hold more than 60,000 inmates and a further 14,000 awaiting trials. Apart from stray reports of drug rackets, almost nothing is known about life behind the high walls and barbed wire.

High gray walls topped with barbed wire, a watch tower every couple of 100 meters, a stringent security check before you enter and endlessly long corridors and series of steel doors before you reach the inmates -- Cologne's main prison fits the bleak image of slammers all over the world.

For inmates the day begins at six in the morning. Breakfast is followed by school, training or work and the grind is interrupted only by an half-hour lunch break. Prisoners can train to be hairdressers, seamstresses or cleaners. Nobody has to know later that they finished school or learned professional skills in a prison.

"Life is actually good here"

23-year-old Nathalie, who doesn't want to say why she's in the prison, said life here isn't bad. Her cell includes a table, chair, a television and cassette recorder.

"We even have a toilet and wash basin in our cells," she said. "Life is actually quite good here."

All inmates in the prison have to do some kind of work. Andi, 33, who works in an inspection center for electrical gadgets, works with a typewriter since computers aren't allowed in the prison for security reasons.

"This is where we keep track of the radios and televisions that inmates bring in and want to have in their cells," he said. "The gadgets are then sent out to a dealer and checked for illegal things like arms, drugs, money or secret information. If they're fine, they are brought back in and I seal them."

The prisoners can also work in the kitchen, laundry, garbage disposal or in workshops where large external companies also commission work. The inmates are paid much less than what they would get for the same work outside. The maximum wage is about 300 euros ($385.8) a month.

"They have to save a large part of the wages for the time after their release," said Angela Wozlaw, deputy head of the Cologne prison, adding that they can use a small part for shopping.

But Wozlaw also said that the prisoners could only order what they wanted on a list and the items are then brought from outside.

Drugs a part of prison life

Other than work and school, there's not much else the prisoners can do in their free time. They can use a library or do sports for an hour and a half each week. Some of them meet their lawyer.

Each prisoner is allowed to receive visitors for half an hour four times a month. The small visiting room with wooden tables is outfitted with mirrors in each corner to allow prison officials to monitor the meetings. Despite that the visiting room carries the risk of drugs being smuggled in, Wozlaw said.

"I would be lying if I said we can prevent that," she said. "It's just not true. We could only do that if we completely sealed off the prison and stopped all human contact," she said. "For instance some visitors smuggle drugs in their mouth and it's passed on through a welcome kiss. Women who come to the prison often hide drugs in their lower bodies."

Even though it's not spoken of, drugs are a part of life in prison, said Wozlaw, adding that for many the prison is their first contact point with drugs. Drug dealers are often the most respected persons in the pecking order among prisoners, Wozlaw said.

"We've concluded that sexual abuse and rape ranks at the bottom of prisoner hierarchy, but rapists are still a notch above child molesters," she said.

Being treated as humans for first time

Prison official Peter Piontek saidthat scuffles and fights among inmates are a regular occurrence. As punishment, inmates are often confined to their cells for a week.

Many of them learn to eat with fork and knife in the prison for the first time in their lives and for others it's also the first time that they learn to stick to rules and have a fixed routine.

"For many it's really the first place where they are seen as humans and not just as scum on the streets," Piontek said.

Deutsche Welle 05/2006