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Journalist arrested following report on Facebook security flaw

(IFJ/IFEX) - May 19, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned that a journalist was arrested by police and his iPad seized after he reported on a security flaw on the popular social networking service Facebook.

Fairfax Media technology reporter Ben Grubb, 20, reported on May 16 on a Facebook privacy vulnerability test conducted at an internet security conference session in the state of Queensland. The test revealed that IT experts were able to access photographs protected by Facebook's privacy settings.

Queensland Police received a complaint about the May 16 story and the following day moved on Grubb, who was questioned before being asked to hand over his iPad. When Grubb questioned the legislation that allowed officers to confiscate the device, he was informed he was under arrest in relation to receiving unlawfully obtained property. The journalist was released a short time later, but the iPad was held by police.

"I was told that forensics officers were going to make a complete copy of the information on my iPad, whether it related to this matter or not," Grubb said on on May 18.

"I feel like I have been unfairly targeted. Journalists must be able to report what they observe - that's what they've been doing for ages and so to see this kind of policing occurring is very alarming."

Chris Warren, the federal secretary of IFJ affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, said the actions by Queensland Police breached the journalist's right to report freely.

Obtaining the iPad should have been authorised by a subpoena, Warren said, and officers should have presented the reporter with the option of having his lawyer present before answering any questions.

"This particularly draconian and unnecessary action on the part of Queensland Police shows how fragile press freedom is in Australia," Warren said.

"There is a real risk that journalists - and their sources - will be wary when it comes to using new technologies to gather news, which is a major concern."

It was a credit to the reporter that he recorded the police interview on his iPhone, Warren said.

"The IFJ is surprised and concerned to see such a flagrant violation of press freedom in a country where it is often taken for granted," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"Efforts by Grubb's colleagues and supporters to keep pressure on Queensland Police following its actions reinforce how important it is that all journalists maintain vigilance for breaches of press freedom."

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