By Joe Fries
An international criminal investigation involving police agencies in two countries stretched all the way to the Kelowna offices of… Club Penguin?
The caper centred on a desktop computer that fell off a moving truck when a railroad workers’ union office was relocated from Humble, Texas, to a new site in Tennessee back in September 2009. The prime suspect was the person who loaded the truck.
Luckily, the computer had built-in tracking software, which showed it had logged on to the Club Penguin website, a popular online game for kids that was developed right here in Kelowna and is now owned by Disney Online Studios Canada.
Det. David Scott of the Humble Police Department learned that the person signed in to Club Penguin under the name of Julio412. He tried to obtain the e-mail address attached to that account but was rebuffed by Disney and told a search warrant would be required from a local jurisdiction.
That’s where the second police agency comes into the picture.
A member of the Kelowna RCMP’s property crimes unit was contacted by Scott and agreed to help out on this end. The officer obtained a search warrant last month, which granted him access to the e-mail address used by Julio412. That information was then sent back to the detective in Humble (the H is silent, so it’s pronounced ‘umble’), a town of about 15,000 people roughly 20 miles northeast of Houston.
Seems like a lot of work for a missing computer.
“It is for our agency. We’re a relatively small department, but we try to stay on top of things,” Scott told Kelowna.com in a telephone interview.
He criticized Disney for giving him the runaround.
“I understand they need to protect their clients’ privacy, but most major corporations have law-enforcement liaison people where we contact them and say, ‘Hey, what do we need to get this information,’ and then they tell us exactly what they need.”
“(Disney) kind of threw their hands up in the air and said, ‘Well, we don’t know. You’ll have to figure it out.’”
Karen Mason, corporate communications manager for Club Penguin, believes this to be the first time the company was legally compelled to provide information. She said protecting the privacy and safety of its young players is one of Disney’s “key priorities.”
Mason pointed out that Club Penguin is certified by an independent privacy agency, and the only information it collects from a player using a free account is his or her parent’s e-mail address, to which a message is sent in order to obtain parental permission and activate the account.
However, “If there were a situation where a law-enforcement agency came to us and the safety or well-being of a child was clearly at risk, obviously we’re going to co-operate,” Mason added.
Scott did have kind words for police here.
“A lot places wouldn’t take the time – especially for something kind of minor like a stolen computer – to help out officers that are out of the country.”
Kelowna RCMP spokesman Const. Steve Holmes said it’s not uncommon for his detachment to assist in this manner, “as long as it relates to the lawful exercise of our duties,” and noted that police here generally receive the same courtesy.
Unfortunately, all that cross-border co-operation seemed to be in vain as the Julio412 investigation eventually came to a “screeching halt,” Scott explained.
The e-mail address he obtained was comprised of a first and last name – both uncommon and both hispanic – which he was able to match to two physical addresses in the Houston area. The computer was not found at the first home, and at the second, the residents didn’t open the door – “most likely illegal immigrants and would not answer the door for police anyway,” Scott said.
Because there was only a single documented use of the computer for a few hours in October, the detective couldn’t get a search warrant for that second address. With that, the trail went cold and “basically the case became deactivated.”