I wrote last May about residents of a Kansas farmhouse who were accused of all manner of malfeasance because of an Internet mapping problem. When a company called MaxMind, which offers “IP intelligence,” couldn’t locate the geographic location of an IP address, it chose as a default the coordinates of the Kansas farmhouse’s front yard.
Now The Washington Post is reporting that the family renting the farmhouse is suing MaxMind in the U.S. District Court for Kansas, claiming the company “…is responsible for turning their pastoral home into a digital-age horror story.”
As reported in The Guardian, the complaint states, “The plaintiffs were repeatedly awakened from their sleep or disturbed from their daily activities by local, state, or federal officials looking for a runaway child or a missing person or evidence of a computer fraud, or [responding to a] call [regarding] an attempted suicide.”
The Guardian quotes the family’s lawyer as saying, “My clients have been through digital hell. The most vile accusations have been made against them—such as that they’ve been involved in child pornography. What impact would it have on your life if someone accused you of being in child pornography? Obviously it’s horrendous.”
Travis M. Andrews in the Post notes that many observers argue that IP addresses should not be used as evidence. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation states, “An IP address alone is not probable cause that a person has committed a crime. Furthermore, search warrants executed solely on the basis of IP addresses have a significant likelihood of wasting officers’ time and resources rather than producing helpful leads.”