As the practice of hunting down alleged file-sharers and then issuing legal threats in order to force money out of them gathers pace, questions are continually raised over the quality of the technical systems used to gather the evidence. According to information on a rent-a-coder site, such a system was bought in 2008 for between $250 and $750.
As ten of thousands of users in the UK, Germany and now the United States receive pay-up-or-else letters from lawyers who claim they’ve caught them sharing files, hundreds of individuals have protested their innocence, claiming no knowledge of the alleged infringements.
Often when people are wrongfully accused there is speculation that the individual’s wireless router could have been compromised and used to carry out an infringement. However, many other instances of wrongful accusations go unexplained.
Understandably fingers then get pointed at the quality of evidence being gathered. How foolproof are these systems? How much time and effort has gone into their creation? Do they live up to their ‘forensic-quality’ claims?
In the vast majority of cases these questions go completely unanswered, since the innards of such software and systems are never opened up for public scrutiny. This is naturally a concern for those trying to protest their innocence.
Many times here on TorrentFreak we’ve covered the activities of ACS:Law, the lawyers making a huge noise in the UK right now as they chase BitTorrent users for hundreds of pounds each. One person involved heavily in this work at ACS:Law is Terence Tsang, who previously worked on similar file-sharing cases with lawyers Davenport Lyons.
Tsang is also involved in other online businesses, including Japanese car sales and other computing-based projects and regularly requests work from freelancers, as can be seen from these examples on his Freelancer.com page.
One of these – Nonpublic project #245939 (account required, screenshot) – is of particular interest.
“Create a bit-torrent client for me which will obtain details about file sharers of certain torrents. Server is Linux. The torrent client just needs to monitor IP addresses and take information which is then placed in a database,” writes Tsang in his request.
“The information needed is as follows: Host IP, Hit Date and time (GMT time), Provider network name (i believe whois search will help with this – can you think of a better way?), P2P Client, File name, File size, MD5 of file,” he adds.
“So we need to get the software to monitor a number of specific torrents it needs to create a database of the above information. The database needs to be able to import into a database file like csv. I am only interested in UK IP addresses. Easy job if you have the skills,” he concludes.
We cannot confirm if Tsang bought this code on behalf of DL, ACS:Law or indeed himself for some kind of lone operation. Since no information is ever offered about the tracking systems used to gather evidence, we cannot say which cases, if any, this code was used for either. What we do know is that there were 4 bids for the work and the job was eventually awarded.
The average settlement from a single letter recipient is $900, so how much was paid for this valuable piece of code which must clearly perform perfectly?
Between $250 and $750.