Court ponders 'trespass' by triggering iPad alarm

Find My iPad was used to track down a man's iPad. Now he may be in trouble.
Find My iPad was used to track down a man's iPad. Now he may be in trouble.

A court has been asked to decide whether a man trying to find his allegedly stolen iPad was acting unlawfully when he tracked it down to a north Canberra townhouse using Apple's anti-theft app and a GPS.

Police, acting on the man's information, allegedly discovered the iPad and a cache of stolen items at the Forde house where 49-year-old Alden Harder lived.

It's a bizarre case that involves the Find My iPad app, accusations of unlawful amateur sleuthing and a contested court order for fingerprints.

Mr Harder's lawyer has argued the man physically trespassed on his client's property while searching for the iPad and had also committed ''trespass via radio wave'' when he activated an alarm on the device while it was inside Mr Harder's house.

But the prosecution has dismissed the claim as absurd.

Mr Harder has not been charged with any offence.

On Monday, police applied to the ACT Magistrates Court for a forensic procedures order, asking for the man to submit to fingerprinting.

Mr Harder is fighting the order.

Police allege the iPad was stolen from a house that was under construction in Braddon on May 24 but the theft wasn't reported until three days later.

They say the owner used Apple's in-built Find My iPad service and his GPS to track down the iPad to Mr Harder's townhouse in Forde on May 25. He walked around the property and looked in a window.

Find My iPad allows users to remotely track their missing or stolen iPad via GPS and to send messages, trigger an alarm or wipe their device.

The man went to police with the information but was apparently unable to elicit action.

The court heard the man went back to the townhouse a second time on May 29 and used the app to remotely trigger the alarm on the iPad, which he then heard ringing inside the garage.

Police then obtained a search warrant for Mr Harder's house.

They allegedly discovered the iPad and a haul of other items, including laptops and a police officer's badge, which were said to have been stolen from as far back as 2009.

The court heard police wanted to take Mr Harder's fingerprints to see if they matched prints taken from the scene of the iPad theft and another burglary.

But Mr Harder's lawyer Paul Edmonds argued the search was based on evidence which was obtained unlawfully because the man trespassed on his client's property while walking round the townhouse.

''It's very clear that [the alleged victim's] purpose was to play amateur detective and to carry out a test with the GPS in his iPhone in an attempt to obtain evidence to give police as to the location of his iPad,'' he said.

Mr Edmonds told the court that the iPad owner had also trespassed electronically by remotely setting off the iPad alarm while it was in Mr Harder's house.

He said the electronic trespass was similar to other non-physical types of trespass which included using force to propel a person or item on to private property and, in one case, projecting light on to a property.

But prosecutor Keegan Lee dismissed that argument as ''an absurd expansion of the definition of a trespass''.

Mr Lee said if electronic transmission were a trespass then ''I would safely say nearly everybody in this courtroom has committed that act by having a wireless router'' that transmitted Wi-Fi internet through their homes and into their neighbours' property.

He said the iPad owner knew or believed the device was stolen and was exercising a ''claim of right'' by going around trying to find it - a full defence to trespass.

''If he was exercising a claim of right there is no trespass,'' he said.

The court heard the man could also have been walking about on a common or public area in the townhouse complex.

Mr Lee said Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker would be satisfied on the evidence that Mr Harder was a suspect in two burglaries and could grant the forensic order for fingerprints.

Ms Walker adjourned the matter to allow both sides to provide further material and will hand down a decision next week.

This story Court ponders 'trespass' by triggering iPad alarm first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.