Computer Glitch Wrongly Portrayed Kansas Family Homestead as Mecca of Criminal Activity for 5 Years

Saturday, August 13, 2016
(graphic: Etsy.com)

By Deb Hipp, Courthouse News Service

 

WICHITA, Kan. (CN) — An Internet protocol company turned a Kansas family's idyllic farm life into a "digital hell," assigning 600 million IP addresses to their property, sending police there at all hours looking for runaway children, stolen cars and pornographers, a married couple claims in court.

 

James and Theresa Arnold sued MaxMind on Friday in Federal Court. Maxmind, based in Waltham, Mass., provides Internet protocol intelligence and online fraud detection tools, through its GeoIP brand, the Arnolds say in the complaint.

 

Unfortunately, they add, "for the last 14 years, every time Maxmind's database was queried about a location in the United States it could not identify, it sent the inquiry the plaintiffs' address. There are now over 600 million IP addresses associated with the plaintiffs' leasehold. Over 5,000 companies draw information from MaxMind's database."

 

The trouble began the week the Arnolds rented their home in May 2011, and they had no idea why police and sheriff's officers showed up "countless times over the next 5 years" until a tech magazine reporter figured it out.

 

"They loved the home as it was out in the country, and the landlord gave the Arnolds and their two boys permission to hunt and fish on the surrounding 623 acres," the family says.

 

But the week they moved in, two Butler County sheriff's deputies came to the house looking for a stolen truck.

 

"This scenario repeated itself countless times over the next 5 years. 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 call of an attempted suicide. Law enforcement officials came to the residence all hours of the day or night.

 

"Private individuals also sought out the plaintiffs' address. Angry business owners claimed that someone at the residence was sending their businesses thousands of emails and clogging their computer systems."

 

In 2013, the Butler County Sheriff's Department ran a background check on the Arnolds "because of all the activity taking place at the residence," and told them an LDNS server (local domain name server) was on their property.

 

There was no such thing, the Arnolds say, but that didn't stop law enforcement agencies from getting "weekly reports about fraud, scams, stolen Facebook accounts, missing person reports, suicide threats from the VA [Veterans Administration] that appeared to come from the address and stolen vehicles all related to the residence. Each incident brought law enforcement to the residence — at all hours of the night and day."

 

"Threats began to be made against the plaintiffs by individuals who were convinced that the perpetrator of internet scamming lived at the residence. State investigators — convinced that the plaintiffs had been involved in an identity theft — came to the residence to take pictures of assets."

 

Angry people trespassed; law enforcement showed up "at all hours of the night and day: [looking for] stolen cars, fraud related to tax returns and Bitcoin, stolen credit cards, suicide calls, private investigators, stolen social media accounts, fundraising events, and numerous other events."

 

After five years of this digitally inspired hell, Fusion.net reporter Kashmir Hill figured it out, in an April 10 article, "How an Internet Mapping Glitch Turned a Random Kansas Farm into a Digital Hell."

 

She traced the problem to MaxMind and GeoIP.

 

Internet Protocol (IP) is a unique identifier assigned to a computer or computer network. It plays an essential role in computers communicating with each other. But IP mapping is not an exact science. At its most precise, it can be mapped to a house. Or, the Arnolds say, 600 million accounts can be dumped on an unsuspecting family.

 

A spokesman for MaxMind said the company policy does not comment on pending litigation.

 

Among the false reports the Arnolds say they suffered, were that they were forcing girls to make pornography at their home, "email and website hacking, stealing identities, property crimes and subjecting others to electronic or physical harassment and cyber crimes."

 

When the Arnolds finally figured it out and informed MaxMind, the company changed its default location to "the middle of a lake somewhere," their attorney Randall Rathbun told Courthouse News.

 

"The problem is, it's still on 600 million computers out there," Rathbun said. "Once you run an address and find all this horrible stuff, it's not like it's just going to disappear. Once you have a footprint on the Internet, you're stuck."

 

The Arnolds seek punitive damages for reckless and grossly negligent conduct, emotional distress, fear for their safety and humiliation.

 

Rathbun is with Depew, Gillen, Rathbun & McInteer, in Wichita.

 

In her article in Fusion.net, Hill wrote that the occupants of the property "have been treated like criminals for a decade. And until I called them this week, they had no idea why."

 

To Learn More:

James and Theresa Arnold vs. MaxMind, Inc. (Complaint; U.S. District Court, District of Kansas)

Computer Glitch Triggers Price War between Two Ohio Gas Stations that Drops to Pennies per Gallon (Associated Press)

Just before Resigning, U.S. Attorney Blames Computer Glitch for withholding Information from Defense Lawyers in Thousands of Cases (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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