The laptop repair that triggered a sex scandal

There are some very good reasons why it's a sensible idea to back up the contents of your hard disk and either erase or encrypt all the stuff you won't want others to see when handing in a PC or laptop for repairs.

You never know if the system could end up getting lost as was the case with the hapless Raelyn Campbell who is now suing Best Buy for $54 million after it happened to her. Or worse still, it could end up getting posted on the Internet for all the world to see as with the even more hapless Edison Chen, a popular singer and actor in Hong Kong.

Chen, who is a relative unknown in the U.S., is scheduled to appear in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight", the next installment in the Batman series scheduled to be released later this year. He has been making headlines in Hong Kong recently after a series of racy pictures of himself in the company of several other Hong King celebrities were published all over the Web (yes, including on YouTube). The photos, about 1300 of them actually, came from the hard disk of a computer belonging to Chen that was handed in for some sort of repairs.

While servicing the computer, the technicians apparently stumbled on to a cache of photos of the star in some rather compromising situations. But instead of just leaving them there, which would of course have been the polite thing to do (OK, maybe after a peek or two), the folks at the service center decided to post them on the Net.

I've never been to Hong Kong, so I don't know if the people there are really as ravenous for this sort of news, as media reports insist they are. But apparently, l'affaire Chen has become the hugest sex scandal to have hit Hong Kong's celebrity circuit in a while, with photos of the star's dalliances with other celebrities being splashed all over the place. Apparently it has reduced Chen's carefully cultivated "nice guy" image to a shambles. It has also tarnished the reputations of about six other celebrities including actress Cecilia Chung and singer Gillian Chung, according to reports.

A Reuters story from Hong Kong quoted Chen as saying he was profoundly sorry to all those who had been "affected by this strange, strange ordeal." The story quoted Chen as calling the postings of the photographs as "intentionally hurtful and malicious". It also had him urging those in possession of the images to "please destroy them" immediately. Right.

The incident has also made news for the response it seems to have evoked from Hong Kong's law enforcement authorities. Media reports say that the computer shop that serviced Chen's laptop was raided resulting in the arrest of eight individuals for infringement of obscene material law. Hong Kong's police commissioner was quoted as saying that the mere possession of the images would be in violation of the country's obscenity laws and could lead to more arrests. One other individual was apparently arrested and detained for days without bail for posting a nude photo of Chen on the Internet. The man was eventually released after a Hong Kong court ruled the photo was "indecent" but not obscene, according to a Reuters report. The man's arrest apparently was meant to serve as a warning from Hong Kong police to others who were distributing the photos-including many school children according to Reuters.

All of which kind of brings me back to my original point. If you have to turn in your computer for repairs or upgrades, or even if you wanted to simply sell it, first make sure you don't have anything in it that you don't want others to see. It's amazing just how much "stuff' we store on our computers these days. In Chen's case it was photos. In other cases, it could be bank statements, tax documents, personal journals, contact lists, family videos, music files and on and on.

Many large companies that should know better, don't clean up their hard disks when selling old equipment. So it shouldn't be surprising that a lot of individuals don't either. But the fact is there's all sorts of tools out there that allow you to easily back up data from your hard drive as well as to encrypt it or simply clean it out. Sure it takes a little bit of extra effort. But do it. Else you could be the one having to explain away those photos you never wanted anyone to see.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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