On Wednesday morning, around 10:00 AM local time, the apartment of the Austrian William Weber was raided by the Styrian Landeskriminalamt (LKA), a government agency, as a part of their investigation into a child pornography ring operating on/over the TOR anonymity network. During the raid, numerous computers and other electronic devices, as well as legal and registered firearms and some other items, were seized. William is likely to be charged with distribution and possible production of child pornography.
The TOR network, originally created by the United States Naval Research Laboratory, allows internet users to remain anonymous on the internet, and is used by journalists, activists, and military organizations around the world, to bypass censorship and communicate securely. To accomplish this, the network routes all traffic through a number of relay nodes before delivering the traffic to its final destination, making it infeasible to detect where the traffic originated from. William is the operator of several “exit nodes” (final hops) on the network, and this is an interview with him.
What are your reasons for running a TOR node, and fighting this accusation?
I believe in freedom of information; I mainly run the exit nodes to make it possible for the not so privileged folks to have uncensored access to the internet, without fear of government prosecution. There are currently not many countries with a clear legal standpoint on TOR nodes. Some countries, like Germany, have complicated legal constructs regarding liability for software like TOR, but this only really applies to registered companies (such as the Telemediengesetz, the German telecommunications law). I’d like to establish a legal base – at least in Austria, and probably for the entire EU. Additionally, I was accused of sharing (and possibly producing) child pornography on a clearnet forum via an image hosting site that was probably tapped. If convicted, this could land me in jail for 6 to 10 years.
What hardware has been taken?
My colocated servers have not been taken, most likely as they are outside of EU jurisdiction (Liechtenstein, US, Hong Kong). It is of course possible that they are being wiretapped by now. The server running the exit node in question, was in Poland, and was already disabled since I moved to a different ISP. Only my flat was raided, which resulted in confiscation of around 20 computers (mainly barebone PCs, HP storage MicroServers and thin clients), external hard drives and USB thumbdrives, my main computer, gaming consoles, tablets (2 iPads) and my phones (Samsung Galaxy Note and a HTC PDA).
What was the raid like?
At 10AM, I was picked up at my workplace by the Styrian Landeskriminalamt (LKA), basically the Austrian equivalent of the FBI for local matters (state police). I was handed a copy of the court order for the search and confiscation of any computer-related hardware and storage media. Since I was not allowed to touch any computers anymore, I had to have a co-worker get me the phone number of the lawyer, who advised me not to say anything. My work laptop was confiscated, and the LKA brought me to my flat, where I had to allow them entry. If I refused, they would probably have forced open the door.
Seven LKA officers, two police offers, and a court-appointed expert witness started a search of the flat, without respecting my privacy or property whatsoever. Paper documents in a cupboard were read, and no care was taken of my cat (who I was allowed to lock into another room later). My storage cubes (HP MicroServers) were confiscated without any regard for the hardware – the power cords were simply ripped out / hard shutdown, instead of properly shutting them down by the operating system. My main PC was shut down normally, as far as i could determine. After finishing the search in my living room, they continued in my bedroom, where they confiscated my legal firearms, as well as my cable TV receiver, and my Xbox 360. Despite my statement that all firearms and ammunition were legally owned and registered, having passed all background checks, this was doubted by one of the LKA officers due to the caliber.
I was asked to open my safe, which I did, where more legal firearms were found (3 handguns), plus a few hundred Euros in cash, some rare coins, and around 3 grams of Hashish and 10 grams of Marijuana for personal use. After finding the drugs, I was asked where I purchased them, without explaining my rights. I replied that I did not wish to answer this question, and repeatedly stated that they were exclusively for personal use. The handguns and drugs were confiscated as a “Zufallsfund” (a German term for something that was not expected to be found during a search – a literal translation would be “coincidence find”). After this, I was allowed to lock my cat into the bathroom – which was either not searched, or searched without me noticing.
Some other things that were confiscated, were my pocket knife and a machete – both of which are fully legal to own under Austrian law. Larger and more threatening kitchen knives, however, did not get confiscated. I was not arrested and free to go after the search; I was however told by police that I had a temporary weapons ban for now, due to drug usage. One of the LKA officers informed me that I should show up for question at the LKA office in Graz, at 13:30 that day. I was also given her number, which was quite ironic, given they just confiscated my phones.
After the search finished, I first took care of my cat, who was extremely scared at that point, and then went to my bank to pick up an emergency phone and cash from a bank deposit box. These deposit boxes are explicitly protected under Austrian law. I used this money to purchase a new laptop. At this time, I was likely being followed by civil police on the street (who were under the impression I didn’t notice them), but they let me off after entering the bank building – again, probably because of laws preventing them from going any further.
Is it common for someone accused of such a crime not to be arrested immediately?
No, not as far as i know; I expected to be arrested as well, but seeing as they came to my workplace first, they don’t seem to have enough proof to even break into my flat by force. I do however expect that I am being monitored, it is possible that they are just waiting for me to contact someone regarding the raid.
What do you believe the legal consequences will be for drug possession?
In the best case, none, as I have no previous convictions, and I am not on probation. As the amount is very low, the sentence must be converted into 2 years of probation (§ 35 SMG). The only way around that would be convincing the judge that I sold them, but I believe that even in that case, it will most likely just be a fine and a probation due to the amount (approximately 4 grams of pure THC in total, I’d guess). The drugs are the least of my concerns right now.
Have you been in contact with the LKA? Have they contacted you since? Do you have any information from the lawyer, or any idea what’s going to happen next?
At 13:30, I showed up as appointed, at the LKAs Graz office. They let me wait outside for 20 minutes before someone finally escorted me to the officer in charge. Again, I was not immediately informed of my rights at this time.
I was handed two copies of the search warrant, with a list of confiscated items – one of them for my hardware, the other one for my guns and the drugs – which I agreed to sign. It was only at this time that I was informed of my right to consult a lawyer or to not say anything at all. I declined, as I had already gotten into contact with a lawyer before that. I, once again, told them where my firearms were purchased and that they were legal, and that the confiscated drugs were only for my personal use. I again declined to answer questions regarding the source of the drugs.
After this, I had them show me the offending IP address, which I identified as belonging to me in the specified timeframe. I explained that this was a TOR exit node under my control at this time. I attempted to explain what TOR is, and they appeared to be familiar with it, as the atmosphere suddenly became more friendly. They probably understood that it was very unlikely they had a child pornographer sitting in their office.
Some questions about my motives followed, which I attempted to answer – but this seemingly failed. I could not make them understand why I would “waste” resources and bandwidth (translating into money) to run a TOR node. I informed them that I was already contacted by the Polish police in May about this IP, regarding hacking attempts originating from it. Back then I had already explained to Polish police that this was a TOR exit node, and that no logfiles were held. After the report of hacking attempts, I shut down the TOR node on this server, but apparently this was too late and they were investigating (and/or wiretapping) already.
I was handed the interrogation transcript, which I agreed to sign after reading it. I was free to go, but again they failed to inform me of something of critical importance – that I was not allowed to leave the country without consent of police. I was informed of this by my boss later. This was quite a surprise and very annoying, as my family and girlfriend live in Slovenia, and I frequently visit them on weekends which is now much harder if not impossible in the next months.