US Looking To Use Computer Hacking Law Against Assange

from the stretchety-stretch-stretch dept

It appears that the US government is realizing the fact that an espionage charge against Julian Assange over Wikileaks is unlikely to succeed and would probably freak out the press (at least those in the press who remember the details of the First Amendment). So, instead, it’s moved on to trying to use the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), commonly known as our anti-hacking law.

Of course, as we noted a few months ago, this law has been twisted and abused regularly to bring charges against people by pretending it covers things it doesn’t. The most famous, of course, was the Lori Drew case, where prosecutors tried to charge Lori Drew with computer hacking, because she was part of a trio of people who used MySpace to bully a young girl, who later committed suicide. How was that “hacking”? Well, the prosecutors claimed that she didn’t obey MySpace’s terms of service, and thus “illegally accessed” MySpace. Luckily, the judge eventually tossed that out.

So what about Julian Assange? How could he have possibly violated a US anti-hacking while not being in the US at all? Well, the feds are apparently scanning through the chat logs between Bradley Manning and Adrian Lamo to see if there’s any evidence at all that Assange could be charged with conspiracy under the CFAA in somehow aiding Manning in leaking the secrets. You can read the CFAA here if you want to see the full act. The argument, then, is that if they can drum up enough proof that Assange somehow aided Manning, it becomes a conspiracy and Assange can be charged under that act as well. So far, about the best they’ve apparently come up with is that Manning hinted that he had a “relationship” with Assange — but the details in the chat logs suggest they talked a few times and that’s about the extent of the “relationship.” Separately, Assange gave Manning (and potentially other sources) a more direct FTP account to upload materials. Once again, this seems like grasping at straws, and seems so trumped up that it will continue to do more to hurt America’s reputation than anything leaked by Wikileaks.

The problem is that it seems pretty clear that any association between Assange and Manning was a loose one. Suggesting that working with a source, and offering them an easy way to give you information is a conspiracy to commit computer hacking would create a massive chilling effect on anyone in the press who regularly reports on secret information. Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh and a variety of other famous investigative reporters have clearly been much more closely connected to their sources, but it would be ridiculous to charge them with “conspiracy.” It’s really sad that our government is wasting tax dollars trying to find trumped up charges for Assange.

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Comments on “US Looking To Use Computer Hacking Law Against Assange”

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41 Comments
Greevar (profile) says:

Censorship in its true form.

Let this be a lesson boys and girls, don’t violate the norms of the dominant group or you will be labeled a deviant and pursued by the authorities to maintain the status quo. There should be no such thing as government secrets. Those that seek to hide the truth are not working in anyone’s best interest but their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Too broad

I was not talking about his situation, I was just responding to your statement that “you know the laws are too broad if it takes a weeks-long “investigation” to determine if they’ve been broken.”, pointing out there is another situation where it could “take a weeks-long “investigation” to determine if they’ve been broken”. And the law does not have to be fuzzy, only its border (and every law will have “corner cases” where it is hard to know whether it has been broken or not).

I believe the situation in this case is more like it is taking a weeks-long investigation to find a law with a fuzzy enough border near enough what he’s done and say he broke it (no need for an investigation on whether he broke it when you already have a predetermined answer).

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: Re: Re: Too broad

So, what do you think is fuzzy about the anti-hacking law that would allow its application in the charge of Assange?

Not sure. But I think a partial answer to your question may be found here:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01/17/anti_spam_activist_lawsuit/

In that case, Ritz used the same basic tools that all competent system and network administrators use every day, and he used them to access to public information being published by the spammers in question. This is in no possible way, shape or form, “hacking”…yet the court, in its profound ignorance, held otherwise.

So all that’s required, really, is to find a technically illiterate court (not a difficult task) and to convince that court that some routine activity like formatting a disk drive or looking at an HTTP server identification string or somesuch is “hacking”. Voila!

James C says:

Hahahahahahahaha sometimes I laugh at hoe stupid our government is. Assange didn’t do shit. You can’t sue Youtube for hosting copyrighted videos so what makes them think that some guy who didn’t actually leak anything AND IS NOT EVEN IN OUR COUNTRY is any way obligated to follow US laws. You can’t tell China that they now have to follow our laws. God bless America….hahahahhahahahahahaha! I laugh at you Uncle Sam.

Tor (profile) says:

Slightly off-topic, but there was an interesting article (machine-translated from Swedish) published some days ago that I didn’t notice until now.

Apparently, if the UK extradicts Assange to Sweden then any question about an extradiction to the U.S would be up to the UK to decide about up. That would apply until some weeks after the sexual crime allegations have been cleared up. Maybe Assange would even be safer from the US in Sweden, since he might then have two layers of protection.

Tor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I guess that depends on whether the prosecutor would charge him or not after the questioning, so it’s difficult to know. With the whole world following the matter I guess the prosecutor would try to make a decision quite speedily though.

Btw. it has also been said that Sweden appealed against the bail decision but the prosecutor claims that this is not true. I’m not sure what’s true in this case. However I know that some other widespread claims that Assange is charged “sex by surprise” is false. There is no such charge in Sweden.

Assuming that Assange’s lawyer has not been misunderstood by the media I must say I found some of his statements a bit odd. And the fact that Sweden cannot extradite Assange to the US if he was first extradited to Sweden for another reason that is as far as I understand governed by European rules, so shouldn’t a lawyer be aware of that?

I do understand that Assange may feel let down by Swedish authorities that unlawfully leaked personal information to the press and in many other ways seem to act quite unpredictably.

Rabbit80 says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’ve been home watching the news most of the day. It seems that there is some uncertainty as to who gave the orders to appeal the bail. There is speculation that a third party may be involved.

I suspect that the whole process is being deliberately lengthened in order to give the US time to fabricate charges whilst Assange is in custody – Sweden could easily have questioned him by now!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Considering that Assange was hiding out in the UK and was purposely avoiding returning to Sweden suggests that he has no interest in answering their questions, any more than he wants to answer question on CNN.

Watch out for this guy, he is a slippery little git who probably has a whole collection of skeletons in his closet.

Richard Kulawiec says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Considering that Assange was hiding out in the UK and was purposely avoiding returning to Sweden […]

The facts do not support this assertion.

1. Someone who is “hiding out” does not have his attorney contact the police and inform them where he’s staying — so that they don’t have to look for him.

2. Have you forgotten that Assange remained in Sweden (initially) for a considerable period of time in order to make himself available to answer questions, and only left the country after he requested and received approval from Swedish authorities?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

1. Assange was in the UK, rather than in Sweden. He could have easily boarded an aircraft and gone to Sweden. He did not. Instead, he stayed at an “unnamed location” in the UK, and only turned himself in where there were not other options left.

2. As soon as the Swedish authorities finished round 1, Mr Assange found the airport and left as quickly as possible. Oddly, he wasn’t able to return to Sweden with the same haste that he left.

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