On Wednesday the 27th of July the Metropolitan Police issued a press release stating that an 18 year old man had been arrested at a residential address on the Shetland Islands. The reason for his arrest is described as follows:
"He is believed to be linked to a continuing international investigation into the criminal activity of the so-called "hacktivist" groups Anonymous and LulzSec, and allegedly uses the online nickname "Topiary" which is presented as the spokesperson for the groups."
The release was quickly picked up by the international press, and various news outlets questioned whether the arrested person was indeed Topiary. Some even linked to a webpage containing a photograph and personal details of another person, who had been identified as Topiary by a rival hacker group. [WLCentral is not going to link to this page as it might contain defamatory information.]
The arrest was confirmed by Twitter user AnonymouSabu, an associate of Topiary, a short time later.
At the time of publication, the arrested person has not been charged, and is apparently still kept in custody at a London police station. This unusually long period of detention without charge prompted us to look deeper into the details surrounding his arrest.
From what has been publicly known, the only circumstantial evidence that the arrested person is indeed Topiary is that the last Tweet on the Lulzsec account appeared around the time of the arrest.
There are, however, several oddities which make us wonder whether Scotland Yard indeed arrested the right man. The most important factor is here the location of the arrest. The Shetland Islands are situated to the North East of Scotland, in a distance of around 80km from Orkney, and 280km from the Faroe Islands. They are inhabited by a total of 20,000 people.
The Shetlands are notorious for poor internet connectivity, and were recently awarded development funding from the European Union to install a broadband connection via a cable from the Faroe Islands. According to the targets set out in the proposal, 80% of the population should have broadband access by March 2016. One is left wondering how someone could have carried out the alleged offenses given these circumstances.
Another oddity is the complete absence of rumours regarding the identity of the arrested person. Local papers report that police flew in on a light plane from England, made the arrest, most likely in the village of Scalloway, searched the property, and subsequently returned to London. Locals could not make sense of it and apparently never heard of this person. There have been rumours he might be German or Swedish and only just moved to the Shetlands. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police however confirmed that he was a British citizen.
Overall, this gives us a very strange impression of the alleged hacker mastermind, and unless he led an itinerant life, the facts hardly add up. In fact, one is left wondering whether there may have been several people operating under the same pseudonym.
The most worrying aspect, however, is the continued detention without charge, which indicates that the police lacks sufficient evidence for a prosecution. According to the press release, the arrest was made under under the Section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act and Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, which would allow for a detention of 24 hours, which can be extended to 36 hours. This time has now elapsed and police have been granted additional three days for questioning.
There are two different broadband systems in operation on the Shetland Islands, a BT connection available to many residents, which appears to be inadequate, and a system called Pathfinder North, which provides fast internet access to a limited number of users. In Scalloway, these are the junior high school, the port control, the community work office and the North Atlantic Fisheries College.