School District Not Backing Down On Felony Charges Against Harmless Hackers

from the over-reacting dept

Back in June, we wrote about a group of thirteen students in Pennsylvania who were charged with felonies for doing a little harmless hacking at their school. They had figured out the administrator password (not hard to do, and apparently taped to an administrator’s laptop) and used it to give themselves full access to the internet, rather than filtered. They also downloaded iChat, so they could chat to each other. The very “worst” claim, was that one student used the open access to view some porn. Once the school discovered this, rather than doing a better job securing their system, they told the students to stop. A few kept it up… and so the school called the police and had them charged with the felony “computer trespassing.” After the case got more widespread attention, many called on the school to change it’s stance, but school is standing by the felony charges and the case is about to go to court. Still, it’s pretty clear that none of the students did anything harmful. It was a minor offense, if anything, and it barely deserves a slap on the wrist. It seems like yet another case where people who don’t actually understand technology assume that any “unapproved” use of technology must be illegal and bad.

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Comments on “School District Not Backing Down On Felony Charges Against Harmless Hackers”

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Jimi Spier (user link) says:

School District Not Backing Down On Felony Charges

What the heck, the very worse thing you can do is tape a password anywhere near your computer. If the school is so paranoid about security then why didn’t they fix the problem, change the password, and consider the experience a “lessons learned”. Besides if they were dumb enough to not take steps to prevent future “Hacker” attacks then they deserve to be taken advantage of.

Bob says:

Re: They Should Be Executed

Oh my God have you lost your mind? These are just kids for chrissakes.

What on Earth has gotten into you? Perhaps they should put YOU in the registry and a device on YOUR ankle. After a year or two of that then lets see if you still feel the same way in your reasoning.

Your post is obvious flamebait. Write a constructive suggestion next time.

Eric says:

My $0.02

First, I think that the kids should be charged. For the first round of attempts. They gained illegal access into the schools computer systems. The fact that the Administrator was an idiot isn’t the point.

However, anything that happened after the school found out should be a slap on the school, no the students. If they didn’t fix the problem, then it is their own fault.

nipsey russell says:

No Subject Given

according to the students’ website, the password wasnt just “taped to an administrator’s laptop” per the story above, but “The password 50trexler, was printed on the back of each computer.”
The security seems to be that the students werent told THAT was the password, but somehow, they managed to figure it out! unbelieveable

What about suing the school for negligence? says:

Re: dumbass admins

If the password is on every system, I don’t see how accusing kids from ‘breaking into school computers’ could have any merit. The systems weren’t even located at the school, but in the kids homes. Is there any paperwork signed stating that what they did was illegal in the Terms of Service agreement? What, no TOS?

These kids didn’t change anything on the school servers just the defaults on the laptops they were issued by the school. If some overzealous DA wants to prosecute this, let the judge slap him and be done with it. Then make the school district pay for court costs.

Block Sheep (user link) says:

It's up to them, it's their job.

as I said before, “Teachers who are up-to-date on what current research and literature says, would have used reasonable consequences or logical consequences instead — as long as nothing was stolen or vandalized (which are crimes).”

Reading this story again (today) made me more open to what they’ve decided to actually do (pressing charges), even with TechDirt’s further objection.

Schools should use reasonable or logical consequences if they think it will help. But, (as a possible analog to this story) if the students broke-and-entered the school building itself (even if it was due to bad “physical security” practices), the school would have to consider prosecution, since what they did was illegal.

In cases of theft, vandalism, or assault — then the school MUST prosecute. Being at school is not a protection from the law, just as Student’s rights don’t stop upon entering school property.

In fact in the “hacking” case, if the students get a competent judge, the students might end up being treated more fairly than if they were just subject to the whim of an administrator. At least the judge will have to give them a fair trial and establish guilt — school administrators don’t have to prove you’re guilty and have large leeway in deciding punishment.

Bill says:

It may be a bit harsh...

But what they did, regardless of how easy it was, or how old they were, was against the law. They gained access to an account, not their own, on a computer they do not own. Like it or not, this is illeagle and, unfortunately for them, a felony in their state. The fact that they continued to do so after being caught, disciplined, and told not to do it again, shows the have no respect for school policy.

Just because the password was easily discovered, does not mean it was OK for them to use it. There was a signed Code of Conduct and Acceptable Use Policy in place, and they deliberately broke that contract. They’re high school students, for Christ’s sake. They’re old enough to know right from wrong and old enough to deal with the consequences of doing wrong.

pj (user link) says:

Re: It may be a bit harsh...

Wow.. amazing.

Perhaps, sir, you do not comprehend the implications of a felony conviction? A bit harsh? Who do you proclaim yourself to be, oh caster of the wretched damning stone?

Doing wrong in a highschool environment always meant detention, or suspension, or *gasp* even expulsion. The law was broken to the very slim ends of being justifiable curiosity.

Please try not to be so shortsighted. I cannot articulate the disgust I feel for your mentality.

Bill says:

Re: Re: It may be a bit harsh...

Perhaps, sir, you do not comprehend the implications of a felony conviction? A bit harsh? Who do you proclaim yourself to be, oh caster of the wretched damning stone?

They are minors. They can petition the court upon their 18th birthday and have the records expunged. Who am I? I’m someone who believes people should take responsibility for their actions. I don’t recall seeing their ages listed, but they are high school students – at the very least, 14 years old. This is plenty old enough to know what you are doing is wrong, and take responsibility for yourself. Any 14 year old knows that if you get caught doing someting wrong and are given the chance to stop with only minor disciplinary action, you should stop. These kids went right on doing what they were doing.

Doing wrong in a highschool environment always meant detention, or suspension, or *gasp* even expulsion. The law was broken to the very slim ends of being justifiable curiosity.

If you look here, you will find they were repeatedly warned and disciplined, but continued with their actions.
Justifiable curiosity? That would stand, had they used the account only once or twice after discovering the password and done no harm to the computer. What they did was to use the administrative account to modify the security of the system. Some of them then used the computer to surf to pornographic sites, knowing very well that was against school policy. They turned off the monitoring function, and used that function to spy on teachers. They were caught, disciplined and told to stop. Some of them used a password cracking program to crack the new password, and continued on where they left off.

No, this is not “justifiable curiosity”. This is blatant disregard for the rules set in place for everyone to follow. The fact that some parents felt the prior disciplinary actions (detentions, ISS, lose of internet access and computer privileges) were ridiculous sickens me. If parents don’t think breaking the law should result in disciplinary actions, no wonder the kids today are so wild.

anonymous says:

Re: Re: Re: It may be a bit harsh...

So they should be punished for being curious and because after serving their punishment they can have their records expunged? Kids don’t know the law and when you get 4 or 5 of them together they lose total touch with the real world ramifications of what they are doing. And as they didn’t kill, rape, steal, destroy, or commit a drug offence, etc. They entered a password that was easily visible to them and then surfed the net? Charging them is nuts, it’s crazy. If these kids get convicted I’m moving to Canada. This is commie b/s.

Bill says:

Re: Re: Re:2 It may be a bit harsh...

Did you even read my post or the link I included? You say “Kids don’t know the law and when you get 4 or 5 of them together they lose total touch with the real world ramifications of what they are doing.” Read the link. They were caught, punished and told to stop multiple times. They continued to do it regardless, and don’t give me this kids don’t know the law crap. They and their parents were told what was and was not allowed at the begining of the year.

Dingle says:

Re: To me, its Inconcievable that this had gotten this

I’m not trying to justify either side.

All I know is that they subvertered the security, than they were caught. The first time this happened, they should of had thier laptops confiscated. The school should of handled this is a responsible manner and not have let it escalate to where it is now.

They are supposed to be acting in the students best intrests.

Granted, what the children did was wrong, and now they will have to pay the piper. Its just so sad the school let it get this far out of hand.

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