Wrong IP Info Leads to 3 Weeks in Jail

Stephen Yagielowicz
PUNE, India — Mistaken information provided to authorities by Internet service provider Airtel has resulted in the false arrest and imprisonment of a 26-year-old Indian man for posting images of a beloved historical figure online.

Kailash K. Lakshmana was arrested in Bangalore and jailed for three weeks for allegedly uploading images of Chhatrapati Shivaji, who in 1674 founded the Maratha Empire in western India, to social networking site Orkut.com, a Google subsidiary.

Lakshmana's woes began when Indian authorities investigating the posting reportedly received an IP address from Google, which Airtel, one of the country's main telecoms, apparently mistakenly identified as belonging to Lakshmana.

According to the Indo-Asian News Service, police will pursue the matter with Airtel.

"We did our investigations on the IP address provided to us by Airtel," said Assistant Commissioner of Police Netaji Shinde. "It is not our fault and Lakshmana should take Airtel to court and not us."

While Google turned the information over to authorities in accordance with Indian law, it's unclear whether or not a court order was issued, and pending U.S. legislation would prohibit such disclosures.

Proposed by Representative Christopher Smith, R-N.J., the Global Online Freedom Act could prevent U.S. companies from providing personally identifying information to any government that restricts free speech on the Internet, "except for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes as determined by the Justice Department."

Although currently stuck in committee, if enacted the law would allow foreign citizens to sue U.S. companies over such disclosures.

This is not the first time that an ISP's mistake over customer IP addresses has led to problems with authorities. In 2004, police in Wichita, Kansas, raided the home of Brian and Sarah Doom, searching for suspect child pornography based on information provided by the Doom's ISP, Cox Communications — the result of a mistyped IP address.

These actions raise the specter of adult entertainment companies having to turn over personally identifying customer information, or in the broader market, search engines having to reveal IP addresses of users that have searched on specific adult terms.

Yahoo currently is embroiled in a lawsuit over several instances of revealing to Chinese authorities the IP addresses of visitors to pro-democracy websites, resulting in prison sentences for the website visitors. A country as reportedly hostile to adult site owners as China could make similar demands for information about adult site visitors.