Latvian hacker “Neo” found

Photos of Ilmārs Poikāns posted on social networking sites Facebook and Draugiem.lv.

RIGA — A researcher at the University of Latvia’s Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science has confessed to being the hacker “Neo” who illegally accessed and enabled the publication of the tax records of Latvia’s political and business elite.

Ilmārs Poikāns, 31 of Riga, was arrested Tuesday night by police after police confiscated two computers allegedly containing information about Neo from the institute and Latvijas Televīzija journalist Ilze Nagla. Poikāns could face up to 10 years imprisonment and fines for illegal hacking. Poikāns’ attorney Aleksejs Loskutovs told reporters Thursday morning that Poikāns had confessed. Poikāns was released Thursday evening by police and is pending trial. The first hearing has not been scheduled yet.

State Police Chief Valdis Voins said that the so-called People’s Army of the 4th Awakening was likely fictitious and Poikāns acted alone, communicating via social networking sites about how to access the data.

An official from the State Revenue Service told parliament that 120 people illegally downloaded documents from the service’s electronic declaration system and that the “hole” existed from the end of 2007 until Feb. 4, 2010, when it was first discovered and promptly closed.

An estimated 7.4 million documents, equaling 120 gigabytes of data, were downloaded from the site, including income statements and tax declarations of public officials, bureaucrats, and businesses.

Data shows that top executives of the municipal companies received huge monthly salaries — 4,000 lats (€5,700) and higher — while enormous bonuses, including 16,000 lats (€22,500) to Riga Heat CEO Āris Žīgurs last March, went out the door all while regular employees took wage reductions in light of budget cuts.

Who is Poikāns?

Poikāns took his moniker from the hero of popular science fiction film “The Matrix.” That character was able to manipulate the data of the Matrix computer program to fight for humanity against sentient machines and served as a useful metaphor for a hacker looking to fight what he characterized as kleptocracy.

In real life Poikāns, a “Universal IT soldier” as his Twitter profile states, is a well-educated, married man with children, speaks English and communicated regularly with top Latvian bloggers and journalists like Didzis Melbiksis and Juris Kaža.

Roughly 200, including Nagla attended the Twitter-coordinated "flash mob" pro-Neo protest outside the Cabinet of Ministers building Thursday afternoon. The messages put in chalk by the protesters was erased by government employees later that day.

Now, parts of Latvian society that lauded “Neo” as a hero are standing in defense of Poikāns’ actions. There was a brief protest in front of the Cabinet of Ministers building Thursday in support of Poikāns.

Sarmīte Ēlerte, the former editor-in-chief of Latvia’s most-popular newspaper Diena and one of the founders of The Meierovics Society for Progressive Change, a new nonprofit organization focusing on transparency and popular involvement in politics, issued a statement to the press on behalf of the society.

“Neo published information the public has the right to know … the taxpayer has the right to know how each lat of their paid money is spent,” Ēlerte’s statement said. “For years when journalists asked for this information … it was hidden, under the pretext of personal privacy.”

Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs said that perhaps the publication of the confidential data was a good thing since, in his words, it threw transparency on city hall’s austerity measures.

“Maybe it’s good that the salaries were published. This allows residents to see how the enterprise [Rīgas Satiksme] worked before June 1 [last year], and how afterward, when the new city council began working,” Ušakovs told the LETA agency. “One of my first decisions was to cut administrative costs in Rīgas Satiksme by 400,000 lats.”

Interior minister criticized

Ēlerte, along with other Latvian journalists decried the seizure of Nagla’s computer by the State Police, calling it a violation of journalists’ rights.

“The search of Ilze Nagla’s apartment violated journalists’ rights,” Ēlerte wrote.

Criticism is not limited to the media. In the Latvian parliament, members of the opposition parties the People’s Party, Harmony Center and LPP/LC have put forward a draft for a no-confidence vote on Minister of the Interior Linda Mūrniece.

In an interview with the television program “900 Seconds” Thursday, Mūrniece dismissed the parliamentary motion as “populism” and said she had no intention of resigning.

— Baltic Reports reporter James Dahl contributed to this article.

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5 Responses for “Latvian hacker “Neo” found”

  1. Anastasija says:

    Well done!!!Finally someone got a nerve to do this!Latvia desperately needs people like this.Things have to change radicaly in the country!

  2. Tom Ritchford says:

    “Hacking”? How is this hacking!? He used a feature that is available in most professional computers out of the box to download a large of pages from a site that was open to the public. I’m an engineer and I do this sort of thing almost every day.

    This is exactly like taking a photo of a naked man walking down the street and then being arrested for espionage!

  3. nu1 says:

    Nice Article.
    I like this, and I dont care about a law..
    Law made by man, and man is source a fault

  4. moevenort says:

    Greetings and solidarity for “Neo” from Germany. What he has done was absolutely correct and necessary. I have lived in Estonia for two years and spent some time in Latvia as well. As a person born in East Germany I was often scared of by the obedience and passivity of the people in these countries. Because of this passivity only· corrupt political Elite, who has no sensitivity to social issues at all can do whatever they want. It isabsolutely necessary to have more people like “Neo” in Eastern Europe.

    moevenort, German Pirate Party

  5. Alan says:

    Greetings. and a STRONG fist bump from the US. We need more NEOs in the world to stand up to all governments and their rich, elitist backers. SOLIDARITY. CITIZENS FOR A FREE WORLD.

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