Computer Genius Battling off Extradition to U.S.
By Susan Basko, esq.
Eric Eoin* Marques, a computer genius in Ireland, has been in jail and battling off extradition to the U.S. where he would face prosecution under U.S. laws for acts the U.S. considers crimes, but which Ireland has refused to prosecute. The FBI has branded Mr. Marques with extreme smears meant to diminish or remove his chance of getting a fair trial. They have called him "the world's foremost facilitator of child pornography." A closer examination of the reality shows this to be a propaganda tactic.
(* Eoin is pronounced like "Owen.")
This week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, June 21, 22, and 23, 2016, Eric Eoin Marques was in Dublin before the Appeals Court regarding the U.S. efforts to extradite him to the U.S. to face criminal prosecution. The result will be a Reserved Judgment that is expected in about December 2016. If the result is not satisfactory, the next step would be to appeal the decision to the Irish Supreme Court, and then to the European Court of Human Rights. Mr. Marques has dual citizenship in Ireland and the U.S., but his family is based in Ireland.
Eric Eoin Marques is a young man with Asperger's syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum characterized as being intellectually smart, but having trouble with social skills, as well as repeated, obsessive behaviors and interests. He had no particular socialization and spent all his time hidden in his bedroom developing amazing things on the internet.
While hanging out in his bedroom in his father's apartment in Dublin, Mr. Marques developed Freedom Hosting, a business that made it extremely easy for anyone to start a website on onion tor, the deep web. Mr. Marques owned or rented hundreds of computer servers throughout Europe and provided inexpensive, easy, website hosting that anyone could step right into. It is estimated that Freedom Hosting was hosting at least half the sites on the deep web. Freedom Hosting had a strict policy of privacy, meaning that the Freedom Hosting "staff" would not look at the websites being hosted. While the Freedom Hosting site information pages assured the users that this was not a one-man business, it was, in fact, a one-man business. It was just Eric Eoin Marques in his bedroom, obsessively securing more and more servers to grow the dark web.
The FBI claims that Freedom Hosting, among the many sites it hosted for its customers, was hosting some sites containing child pornography or child abuse images, as these are called in the UK. The FBI claims that Mr. Marques accessed a child porn site hosted on his servers at least once and adjusted a photo for a client.
Child pornography is a terrible thing that victimizes the children in the images in unspeakable ways. There is no justification or excuse for making or distributing child pornography. However, it is a legitimate discussion to question whether a young man with Asperger's Syndrome, alone and obsessed with building a tor server empire, would even be able to comprehend such images, their impact, and their illegality. There are also legitimate questions whether such a young man could comprehend whether he was being used and manipulated by sophisticated people in the child porn industry. If a person is socially stunted, can he really be held responsible for not socially navigating properly amid sharks?
This case is unique in claiming that the internet service provider or hosting service is responsible for the content of all the websites being hosted. This is like saying Amazon Web Services (AWS) is responsible for the content of all its hosted sites. Not long ago, I complained to AWS that a stalker-defamer-extortionist in San Jose, California has been using AWS to host a series of websites in my name and that these are criminal because they are obscene, they are cyberstalking, they are impersonating me, and they violate my rights as a person and as a lawyer. The same extortionist owns many such websites in the names of other people. AWS looked at the websites, admitted they were disgusting, but said their company does not make a determination of what is crime or tort and does not remove such websites off its servers! But the FBI expected Freedom Hosting to do exactly that! Why is Eric Eoin Marques sitting in jail facing gigantic criminal charges, while the owners of Amazon Web Services are sailing on yachts and eating lobster?
Likewise, the FBI could easily call Twitter the "largest facilitator of ISIS recruiting on the web," and in fact, it seems the FBI has called Twitter exactly that. But the FBI is not raiding the homes of the (former) Twitter owners and Board or CEO. The FBI could also call Twitter a huge purveyor of porn and child porn, because, let's face it, it appears to be just that. The FBI could also call Twitter the "largest facilitator of death threats in the world," because, again, it appears to be. And yet, the FBI is not knocking down the doors of the Twitter CEOs.
Likewise, the FBI could call Facebook the world's largest facilitator of revenge porn against teens, the world's largest facilitator of racist hate, and a hotbed of death threats. Yet, the FBI is not knocking down Mark Zuckerberg's door in the pre-dawn hours.
So what is the difference between Eric Eoin Marques and these other internet entrepreneurs? Eric Eoin Marques was involved in developing tor, the hidden web. He was making tor accessible and easy for everyday type users. And that gave all those users anonymity and privacy on the internet. If privacy can be equated as "bad," then that seems the likely reason Eric Eoin Marques is being held accountable for the content of websites he did not own or run, but had on his servers.
In addition to Freedom Hosting, Eric Eoin Marques invented, developed, and ran Tormail. That was a service providing easy access to untraceable email accounts. Yes, Tormail was probably used by a lot of harassers and hackers, but it was probably also used by activists and those working to secure human rights. But Tormail also provided privacy, and thus was closed by the FBI.
The bottom line is that Eric Eoin Marques is one of the most prolific internet geniuses alive today. He worked on his own and kept to himself, and even pretended his company was more people than just himself. It seems rather shocking that the FBI wants to squash that talent and place Eric Eoin Marques in a cage for his lifetime. It also seems stunningly unfair to brand him with smears regarding child pornography, so that he cannot get a fair trial and cannot even get fair media treatment. All the news outlets keep repeating this vile mantra as if it sums up the situation. Even liberal type tech news outlets, known to question the government spin, have repeated the FBI-fed smear against Mr. Marques. Where is the questioning? Are the tech outlets and entrepreneurs prepared to say that each ISP owner is now criminally liable for all content placed on its servers by customers or the customer's clients or public users?
The legal questions are being ignored. Is a web server company owner criminally responsible for the content of the websites it is hosting? If so, that is something very new in U.S. law. This needs to be brought out into the open and discussed and dissected.
Right now, the issues before the Irish Court of Appeals involve the reasons for not extraditing Eric Eoin Marques to the U.S. The panel of 3 judges seems aware of the hazards of extradition to a young man with Asperger's Syndrome, taking him far away from his support network of family to the U.S. prison system that is notorious for not providing proper medical or mental health care.
But the issues should be about far more than this. Do we allow a genuine computer genius to be locked up longer still, because some of the users of his business were hosting illegal content? Is he responsible for their content? Should be be made to pay for their crimes? And if so, on what basis?
There is a discussion waiting to happen: a logical, fact-driven discussion that does not involve tainting a person with smears.