ACS:Law and other dodgy organisations

Stories are reaching the mainstream news outlets now about the incredibly dodgy workings of ACS:Law. Their name is well known online amongst the geekier members of their community due to their shady tactics of trying to extort money from people for alleged illegal downloads. It has taken the crashing of their website and release of their unprotected email archives to expose exactly how underhanded and (to a large extent) illegal their operation is.

Judging from several reports, they could be facing a fine of around £500,000 for possibly the most serious breach of the Data Protection Act ever seen since the Act was put into force. BT are also in line for a kick in the teeth on that one.

What really got my goat, though, was the contents of the mail archives. They detailed numerous cases where the legal team attempted to force money out of people who they had absolutely no evidence against them. The letters were very much along the lines of the ones I was getting from ParkingEye (which I realise I’ve not detailed on here… that’ll be up soon).

Essentially, the letters stated that the person who paid for the internet connection was liable for illegal downloads on that connection which had taken place. And that if they coughed up £495 chosen as it was below the psychological £500 barrier), further action would not be taken. Otherwise there were threats of possible legal action, courts and so on.

This was, of course, bullshit.

One of the stories highlighted that ACS:Law were only targeting, in the first instance, people they reckoned had downloaded one particular music track, or porn. Any porn. So going for the embarrassment tactic, then.

Has anyone seen Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? There’s a story given in a monologue that I’d heard of before the film and essentially it is this – to get a lot of cash, advertise something in the dirty magazines. Let’s say, huge double-ended sex toys for men. They’re twenty quid. You don’t have any – you just wait for people to pay you and hold the cash for a bit. Then you send out apologies (“sorry, our supplier let us down” or similar), and a cheque for £20. But the company the cheque is from is called “HUGE SEX TOYS FOR MEN WITH TINY PENISES plc” or something.

Most people will be too embarrassed to cash the cheque and will just write off the £20.

This is the tactic, I feel, that ACS:Law were using. Hit people with a “you or someone in your home was downloading copyrighted filth” charge and a lot of people may well have just blushed, lumped it and coughed up. Indeed, a lot did. Courtesy of the hideous lack of security on ACS:Law’s servers, the credit cards details, addresses and so forth of hundreds of these victims is up for grabs on the internet.

What ACS:Law have done is a mixture of incredible naivete (believing that it’s so easy to link an IP address to an individual) and bare-faced cheek. Reading the emails is, frankly, stomach-churning as you see just how disparagingly they treat their victims.

The whole tone is simply “can we get money out of these people?”. In so far as being a system of punishment, their methods are no better than speed cameras. You’re “guilty” until you can prove yourself innocent by incriminating someone else.

A complete and utter shambles, kicked off by a terrible system that allowed them to jump onto this money-making bandwagon in the first place. It’s only a terrible shame for those who’s details have been leaked that it took such a breach of their privacy for these disgusting tactics to be revealed to the general public.

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