Camera Phone Has Life After Theft
By Kevin Poulsen
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/0,1848,68668,00.html
02:00 AM Aug. 29, 2005 PT
A New York stock clerk who had his camera phone swiped from his car this month says he was able to peer into the life of the gadget's new owner. The thief evidently didn't realize the copious photos and videos he was taking with the hot phone were accessible through a web account.
John Clennan, 23, says someone rummaged through his unlocked car while he was working the nightshift at a Long Island convenience store earlier this month. Several days later Clennan realized his Sanyo 5500 was missing from the vehicle, and he called service provider Sprint PCS to have the service cut off.
Because the camera phone can only hold a limited number of images, Sprint lets subscribers upload photos from the device to a web account. "I decided to go and check out the web space and see if there were any pictures uploaded to it, and he had taken almost 40 pictures and five movies and uploaded them all," says Clennan.
Most of the images show the same young man, flexing for the camera in various states of dress, kissing a young woman, posing with apparent friends and family members, and generally having a good time with a new toy.
When Clennan checked the account's e-mail outbox, he found the new owner had forwarded some of the photos to a particular Yahoo e-mail account.
Clennan sent his own message: "Like to steal cell phones and use them to take pics of yourself and make videos.... HA! (G)uess what pal ... (I) have every pic you took and the videos. I will be plastering the town with pics of your face."
Far from chastised, the man fired back a taunting one-line note, apparently with his own name in the header, dropping the name of a woman Clennan had been dating, and who'd sent text messages to the stolen phone.
Clennan retaliated by posting the story and some of the photos to a Long Island web board, where it immediately began gathering the kind of interest that accumulates to photo-driven internet phenomena like the Korean Dog Poop Girl and the New York subway flasher.
Urged on by netizens, Clennan says he finally took the trove of evidence to the Suffolk County, New York, police last week, and they're considering filing petty theft charges in the case. "The detective actually laughed," says Clennan.
"The police told him that they were going to subpoena Yahoo, because they have the e-mail address," says Clennan's mother, Susan Clennan. "I would assume that it's probably not one of their top priority cases. It's not Sherlock Holmes material." (Police say the investigating officer is on vacation, and he could not be reached for this story.)
Contacted by e-mail, the camera phone's new owner told Wired News he didn't steal the device, but merely found it on a street corner. The young man says he's 16 years old, and Wired News has elected not to report his name.
"I should have locked my doors, and this wasn't the first time," says Clennan. "It was totally my fault. But after seeing how stupid this guy was, he just had to be caught."