Zut Alors! French Government Deny BitTorrent Piracy Allegations

Mid-December, data from YouHaveDownloaded was used to show that several illegal downloads had taken place in the palace of French President Sarkozy. These, however, were just the tip of the iceberg. More than 250 further IP addresses belonging to the French Ministry of Culture have now been linked to illegal downloads but the government, unsurprisingly, say they are completely innocent. OK, so prove it.

alorsLast month, Nicolas Perrier of Nikopik told TorrentFreak that he had found infringing downloads at the Élysée Palace – the official residence of President Sarkozy.

Using the tools at YouHaveDownloaded, Perrier found six illegal downloads including a cam copy of the movie Tower Heist, a telesync copy of Arthur Christmas, and music from The Beach Boys.

But while six downloads are easily ignored, bigger things were around the corner for the French government. The country’s Ministry of Culture has quite an online presence and are allocated more than 65,000 IP addresses. Perrier and friends scanned them all and found 250 government IP addresses that were used to share the latest movies, music, video games and even adult titles during the last two months.

Instead of keeping their collective heads down, the government has now issued a press release refuting the allegations.

“The Management Information Systems Department ensures strict use of computers in its fleet,” the Ministry of Culture said in a statement quoted by Numerama.

“The configuration of the network prevents connections to peer-to-peer networks, which excludes any possibility of using such networks for illegal downloading,” the Ministry added, while offering assurances that “internal audits” are now underway.

The statements here appear somewhat conflicting. On the one hand illegal downloads are apparently impossible, but on the other the Ministry has seen fit to commission an audit. They don’t sound confident, that’s for sure.

Interestingly, thanks to YouHaveDownloaded the debate on the accuracy and usefulness of IP addresses evidence has been stimulated. Unsurprisingly, though, the French government doesn’t dismiss the usefulness of IP address evidence completely. When they’re the ones collecting it, it can be relied on. When others harvest it, the data loses its value.

“The processes used by the site youhavedownloaded.com can in no way be compared with the methodology employed by TMG,” says the Ministry. Trident Media Guard is the company that collects evidence for France’s 3-strikes ‘HADOPI’ law. In common with all similar companies, their systems are secret and not open for scrutiny.

“The findings of this process can not therefore call into question the process established by the HADOPI, particularly in regard to the reliability of the findings derived from an IP address. As a result, all of these allegations appear unfounded,” the Ministry concludes.

One of the main problems with IP address-based evidence is what happens when someone is wrongfully accused. There is no simple way of refuting the claims and it’s down to the defendant to prove their innocence.

It’s all well and good for the Ministry of Culture to say “it’s impossible to share files from our IP addresses” but will that standard of rebuttal be acceptable coming from the man in the street faced with an accusation from HADOPI? Hardly.

So, if the Ministry of Culture is completely innocent let’s see them held to their own standards. Let them show their citizens how proving a negative, that something didn’t happen, is done. They’re not going to find that easy, even with their limitless resources.

Update: Canada’s parliament also has piracy issues.

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