More Than Two Years After It Took Them, The FBI Still Won't Return Family Videos Seized During A Raid Of A Security Researcher's Home [UPDATED]

from the making-life-miserable-for-citizens-just-because dept

UPDATE: Good news! Justin Shafer says the FBI has finally come up with a date to meet with him about the personal data/videos still in the agency’s possession. Hopefully, Shafer will have his stuff back shortly he meets with the FBI on February 15th.

The government isn’t done jerking around security researcher Justin Shafer quite yet. Shafer came across a bunch of dental patient information in an improperly secured database. This discovery led to the FTC levying a $250,000 fine against the software provider, Schein, for falsely portraying its faux encryption as actual encryption. After notifying affected parties, Shafer was thanked for his help with a raid by FBI agents.

This happened days after the FTC announced its settlement with Schein. FBI agents dragged Shafer outside of his house in his boxers at 6:30 in the morning and took every electronic device in the house except for his wife’s phone. His children were awakened by shouting men pointing guns at their parents.

This wasn’t the only time Shafer was raided. He was raided once more, again for suspicions he was engaged in illegal hacking, this time allegedly in conjunction with TheDarkOverlord. Neither of these two raids resulted in anything more than a bunch of seized electronics and Shafer’s family being taught to fear, if not hate, federal agents. No charges were brought as the result of these two raids.

This second raid led to Shafer directing his anger at the agent who had secured the search warrant, Special Agent Nathan Hopp. Following this raid, Shafer tracked down Hopp and Hopp’s wife via social media, engaging a series of unwise (but not actually threatening) confrontations with the agent’s wife. In one message to her, he implored SA Hopp’s wife to return video recordings of his children, which had been seized along with everything else.

This led to a third raid by FBI agents — this time in response to Shafer’s alleged “threats.” Shafer was released on bail, but quickly sent back to jail after he vented about his treatment by the FBI in an ill-advised blog post. Shafer spent eight months in jail before finally being released. The DOJ pursued a superseding indictment, most likely because its original indictment failed to impress the judge presiding over Shafer’s case.

The situation got even more petty and bizarre when the DOJ demanded Twitter hand over info of all accounts engaged in a conversation about Special Agent Hopp — one that culminated in Justin Shafer delivering an apparently threatening smiley face emoji. Most of the convo participants were easily identified, making this weird flex by the DOJ a vulgar display of stupidity and vindictiveness.

Last March, the cavalcade of petty stupidity finally came to a close. Well, almost. Shafer signed a plea agreement with the DOJ, pleading guilty to a single count of retaliating against a federal official. (The FBI’s multiple acts of retaliation against Shafer are apparently within the bounds of the law…) Shafer has finished his probation and done everything he’s supposed to, but the government isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

According to his plea agreement [PDF], the government could choose to seize one specific set of data. Under “Financial Obligations,” the plea agreement specifies:

The Court may order the forfeiture of the Defendant’s interest in the following property: All electronically/digitally stored means of identification (other than the Defendant’s own) stored on electronic storages [sic] devices and/or media seized from the Defendant pursuant to the execution of federal search warrants.

The FBI has so far refused to return anything to Justin Shafer. The hard drives containing leaked patient data also contained more than 250 family videos. The FBI has made no move to forfeit anything else it seized. It has also said it will meet with Shafer to delete the patient information he downloaded during his security research. But ten months after broaching the subject, the FBI hasn’t set a date for returning Shafer’s personal files that were swept up along with the data the FBI sought.

On top of that, the court never ordered the forfeiture of the leaked patient data, so the FBI technically can’t even keep that. Understandably, the feds may move for forfeiture of this specific data if Shafer tries to get it back, but for now, it doesn’t really have any legal basis to hold onto anything it seized during the May 2016 raid that started the ball rolling on this debacle.

The FBI should have returned everything it wasn’t authorized to keep once it had a signed plea deal in hand. It has no use for anything found on any of the seized devices, especially since it undoubtedly knows where to find and remove the patient data the court says Shafer shouldn’t have back. But ten months later, it has made no move to return the files it seized, which include 250 family videos of no possible interest to the FBI.

There’s no reason the FBI can’t just hand over everything but the patient data without making Shafer and his legal rep jump through a bunch of hopps hoops. But it seems the FBI isn’t through with Shafer. Given the history on display here, the lack of forward motion by the agency that raided Shafer’s home three times but only managed to walk away with single (bullshit) count of retaliation via threatening a family member (read the law and the indictment to see why this charge is bullshit) can only be seen as vindictive.

The entire picture is ugly: reported data breaches were treated as criminal acts by an agent with too much free time and a vivid imagination. When his (repeated) target lashed out, the DOJ expanded past its fantasies of a Shafer-DarkOverlord partnership to punish Shafer for stupid, but not truly threatening, internet activities. Now it’s sitting on his personal belongings because it can, not because it needs to.

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Comments on “More Than Two Years After It Took Them, The FBI Still Won't Return Family Videos Seized During A Raid Of A Security Researcher's Home [UPDATED]”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Own goal' comes to mind

It’s funny, and telling, that they are such a habitual liar that they are willing to hallucinate false details to a story out of thin air, one that was written a whopping day ago, in order to attempt to make a point, such that in the end the only point made (again) is that they are a grossly dishonest liar and nothing they say is worth paying attention to or believed as a result.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

…because it can, not because it needs to.

Doesn’t that describe much of what law enforcement (and the intelligence agencies) do, these days?

P.S. That Schein really knows how to "Punish! Punish! Punish!" people who report its wrongdoing, doesn’t it? I mean, this almost certainly started with a hacking complaint from them.

Oh, and a moral: When someone is throwing rocks at you, scattershot, don’t give them more rocks.

hasbara cockroach 138547 says:

Re: more rocks

And thats #Israelification BINGO.

Since when is the analogy of “throwing rocks ”even permissible in discussions of free speech issues?

Oh, yeah: since the FBI opened an office in Tel Aviv, and the Anti Defamation League started "training" American police in how dangerous rock throwing teenagers are to fascists armed with Martin Bubers zionism .

The US is a full blown AIPAC/Israel colony at this point.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It is so nice to see that while the FTC is was bitch slapping the company for abject failure, the FBI decided they were the good guys terrorized by the evil evil smiley face hacker.

Petty isn’t a good look & the FBI/DOJ specialize in it.
How DARE he upset his corporate betters by revealing they lied & lied & lied about keeping things secure leaving patients exposed. He made the corporation sad so he has to pay!

Can’t be bothered to return stolen property (because at this point their failure to return it in accordance with the courts order seems like it should be punished), can’t be bothered to count cell phones, can’t be bothered to find actual terrorists.

And somehow they still aren’t able to understand why citizens have lost faith in the legal system and its cogs who always get good faith from courts that never extends to anyone else… its like special laws for special people… like corporations able to lie to the FBI to steal property for them & then never come up with evidence… If I called in a bomb threat that resulted in emptying a building & property damage, I get charged with that. FBI takes a tip from a liar, ruins other peoples business, and the ‘evidence’ doesn’t ever appear… huh…

Special Agent Nathan Hopp says:

Re: thats why its called....

The Corporation.

The FBI has NEVER worked for the people, or followed any known laws of due process. It is Americas primary political political police.

They even offer assassinatiin services. See this:

Re:“The DOJ’s Bizarre Subpoena Over An Emoji Highlights Its Ridiculous Vendetta Against A Security Researcher”

ECA (profile) says:


couldnt he just take it to another judge, and have the State the AG, and anyone else listen..
ANd if they cant, he has tried his best to live by What he signed, and now the Feds are in default..

Load up a phone book and publish the names and numbers…WHICH isnt against the law as its public info..
And freak out the FBI again..

That One Guy (profile) says:

Because 'Fuck You', that's why

Shafer signed a plea agreement with the DOJ, pleading guilty to a single count of retaliating against a federal official. (The FBI’s multiple acts of retaliation against Shafer are apparently within the bounds of the law…)

Similar to how they can lie to you, but if you lie to them… oh are you going to get it. They’re The Good Guys, Good Guys don’t do Bad Stuff, so obviously they couldn’t have engaged in vindictive punishment of someone, and anyone who says otherwise is nothing less than A Bad Guy and can be safely ignored(or put under the microscope for their blatantly anti-american views).

I do have to wonder if they understand that they come off as beyond petty and vindictive from their actions here, sending a message that if you see a problem keep it to yourself and don’t tell anyone(or if you feel it needs to be known release it publicly and anonymously, and to hell with the fallout), or if they’re so blinded by Good Guy Syndrome that they honestly think that what they did was acceptable.

Special Agent Nathan Hopp says:


And thats #Israelification BINGO.

Since when is the analogy of “throwing rocks ”even permissible in discussions of free speech issues?

Oh, yeah: since the FBI opened an office in Tel Aviv, and the Anti Defamation League started "training" American police in how dangerous rock throwing teenagers are to fascists armed with Martin Bubers zionism .

The US is a full blown AIPAC/Israel colony at this point.

Special Agent Nathan Hopp says:

Deplatforming v Chinese internet monitoring

I just LOVE Techdirts ADL /SPLC friendly comment flagging system, which, like Goigles "trusted flaggers "allows these cockroaches to monitor pure speech, and thus, maintain tribal /sectarian Jewish Supremacy in nearly every single online dialogue of any importance.

Special Asshole Nathan Hopp says:


Paul –
Dont you have a Google/ADL “trusted flagger ”project you could be working on right now?

Maybe cyber -stalking a grieving widow whose kid was killed in a Gaza “rubber bullet ” event, or bullying a maimed complaintant of a SWAT flash bang grenade or something?

I mean -vultures like you are usually stormtroopering all over Schaffers accounts by now, and stalking and mocking him for “bad words”

And really -America and all of its cameras, ALPRs, a Million Man Army of Paul Blarts, and cyber spying makes China feel free.

Here -look, Seattle has installed devices that put Beijing surveillance to shame:

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: reality

You do have very strange fantasies. Given that you are clearly not getting the help you so desperately need, I am glad you’ve chosen to waste your time here rather than act out in ways that would prove an actual danger to yourself and others. Here’s hoping you come in contact with a professional who can fix your broken mind before that changes.

"Here -look, Seattle has installed devices that put Beijing surveillance to shame"

Erm, so? Even if that site I’ve never heard of before is correct, how does that affect me?

Paul Ticklesacker says:

Re: Re: reality

I seldom reply to you, whoever /whatever you are, but somehow, I feel a need to address this issue of “burnt toast. ”


Thats not toast -thats the smell of your ass meeting your face, thinking you can read between lines or something.

Dude: its your ass crack -PULL YOUR HEAD OUT before it consumes you, hole.

Carry on.

Hi,Paul says:

Re: Re: Re:2 reality/experts

Hi, Paul.
I took your advice! I saw an “expert. ”

In fact, it was an internet expert, over at Encyclopedia Dramatica.

I think I have a diagnoses for you, that might explain why you feel a need to seek out my comments, and say banal, distracting things, often followed by whattaboutery and some other Mulligans:

Have a look:

Then, they asked me to ask you a question: is there no social life in Mauritania, or are you so shut -in that Techdirt is all you have for companionship?

Paul Ticklesacker says:

re: back doors

If you read into this debacle a bit, we see that his original sin was that he exposed FAKE /PHONY encryption with the Minnesota company.

This is what brought the hammer down, because Minnesota companies lead the pack in database abuses, and appeasing the,FBIs hunger for back door deals, in politics and encryption too.

3M, for example, controlled the CHRI database, which MN DFL Clintonites used to mole the private data of hundreds of thousands of political targets.

Then, they sold off the DB to the same company that the NSA hacked (Gemalto), just as the Dems were eating themselves alive in 2016.

These alphabet agencies and their corporate collusions love their back door access, and anything that threatens that is a cardinal sins.

Extra points for noticing MN Senator Amy Klobuchar has parlayed all that dirt into a presidential run, 2020

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