A family in Spain was erroneously accused of uploading child sex abuse material to Facebook because Spanish investigators read a date in a US report as if it used the European date format.
According to a report in El Pais this month, Spanish authorities received a report from the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that a specific IP address managed by Telefónica had uploaded child abuse material to Facebook on 10/11/2016.
In the US, that's October 11th, 2016 (MM-DD-YYYY), with some exceptions, but in Spain and other European countries, it's November 10th, 2016 (DD-MM-YYYY). Since 1988, the International Organization for Standardization has called for using the YYYY-MM-DD format (ISO 8601).
Because internet service providers often assign public IP addresses dynamically, different people end up using the same numeric internet address on different days or after reconnecting to their ISP. The family in question had been using the identified IP address, just not on the day the illegal material was uploaded to Facebook.
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As recounted by El Pais reporter Jose Antonio Hernández, the family's home was searched on November 23, 2017, resulting in considerable disruption and distress. Police scoured mobile devices and took away a computer that the family eventually recovered through the help of an attorney.
The investigation remained open until February 8, 2018. According to Hernández, a subsequent report from Spain's General Council of the Judiciary acknowledges that the case against the family was brought in error and that the family should be compensated.
The family is said to have launched legal proceedings against Spanish authorities and is seeking €27,000 in damages. NCMEC and Spanish Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Data confusion issues are a relatively regular occurrence. Recently, geneticists issued new guidelines on naming genome sequences because of Excel's tendency to convert certain gene designations into dates. In Canada, legislators have tried unsuccessfully to pass a law to mandate the use of the YYYY-MM-DD format because there isn't a government standard. And Europe's tobacco tracing efforts are sometimes derailed by date format errors. ®