Security Researcher Held In Jail For 8 Months Because He Wrote An Angry Blog Post, Released For Now

from the first-amendment-issues dept

Over the past month or so we’ve written a few times about security research Justin Shafer. As you may recall, he first came to our attention, when the Justice Department decided to subpoena the identities of five Twitter users because Shafer had tweeted a smiley emoji at them. No, really. I’m not exaggerating. That’s literally what happened. Shafer saw some Twitter users discussing a case totally unrelated to his own, tweeted an emoji, and the DOJ is demanding the identity of those he tweeted the emoji at.

That then got us more interested in what the hell happened to Shafer — where it appears that the DOJ had a weird vendetta against him. His house was raided three separate times — mainly because he had helped expose security problems with some software. The company complained that Shafer had violated the CFAA, and thus his house got raided and all of his family’s electronics were seized. Of course, he wasn’t charged with anything because there was nothing to charge him with. Then there was a second raid. Same result. No charges. Shafer was apparently getting fed up with FBI agent Nathan Hopp (he initially misheard the name as “Hawk”). Eventually, after finding out about another case that Hopp was involved in, he did some online digging of public, online records to find out more about Hopp. Then he did something unwise, and which I would not recommend, but which it’s hard to see how it could be illegal. And that is that he contacted Hopp’s wife, after finding her Facebook page — and asked her to have Nathan return the stuff that had been seized.

And, yes, this is a dumb thing to do, no matter how angry or frustrated you might be. But… is it criminal? Well, the DOJ claimed it was, leading to a third raiding and Shafer being arrested for “cyber stalking.” And then things got even crazier, because after being released on bail, Shafer was quickly dragged back to jail and had been locked up since April, because he blogged about the case. The conditions of his release said that he couldn’t use social media to contact Hopp or his family. The DOJ claimed — and a magistrate judge amazingly agreed — that the blog post (1) was social media (2) was “indirect contact” and (3) broke the conditions of his release. And thus, he was in jail. Last month, his lawyers appealed that decision, claiming it was a First Amendment violation.

And, on Friday he was released from jail as a judge agreed to release him, pending the trial (also, apparently there’s a superseding indictment coming soon, so we’ll see if the DOJ has anything more than “he sent some inappropriate Facebook messages.”). The conditions of his release still seem fairly ridiculous as it includes this:

The defendant shall not have access to any computer.

Of course, immediately after that it also talks about how he can use a computer, but all usage will be monitored. It’s a bit confusing, but it appears that he can use his own computer in very limited ways, if it has monitoring software, but cannot use other computers. And he’s barred from social media (Facebook, Twitter). He’s allowed to blog, if the blog posts “comply” with the rest of the release conditions — including not “providing identifying information” on the people he’s accused of “cyber stalking” or encouraging or inviting “others to contact or harass such persons.” And, generally speaking, it’s probably a good idea for him to refrain from such activity whether or not it was a condition of getting freed.

Still, it’s difficult to see (a) why he was arrested in the first place and (b) why he sat in jail for 8 months over a blog post. The whole case still just stinks of the DOJ getting angry at the guy because he didn’t roll over when they raided his house twice.

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Comments on “Security Researcher Held In Jail For 8 Months Because He Wrote An Angry Blog Post, Released For Now”

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36 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

All liberty lost… sounds about right.

So knowing this all happens regardless of the administration in charge, which party is the good guys again? I keep getting confused…

O yea… the “other guys” those are the bastards taking everyone’s liberty!

People really do not give a shit about government Tyranny, they just like to run their fucking mouths while doing nothing.

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Not all politicians are a waste of good oxygen

I have to disagree a little. I was quite impressed with the campaign that Bernie Sanders ran last year, both from a policy standpoint and as a candidate. If the tone of the US government is set by the president, I have grave doubts that shit like this would be tolerated under a Sanders White House.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Like George says…

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

In a sick twist of events, humans become evil during their efforts to put evil down, and not only just evil but often times becoming the very evil they worked so tirelessly to destroy.

Liberty is often the very first sacrifice made when you find someone of a differing political mind.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

The FBI is shocked that researchers are not contacting them about security problems in major companies. They claim to not understand how running a vendetta and terrorizing a family plays into researchers refusing to alert them to issues.

It would be nice if a judge remembered that whole speedy trial thing & stopped the clock on the FBI trying to create a crime they can charge. They have disrupted this mans life because he was concerned about the public & reacted poorly to an agent who decided he was the bad guy & nothing would shake that opinion.

FBI more concerned about protecting a companies reputation than the citizens who’s info was handed out to anyone who looked.

Shirley Youjest says:

Lawn Odor

Kongressional Klowns keep passing laws that no one understands or adheres to, incliuding themselves.

Meanwhile, other so-called “authorities” just make it up as they go along, including legalized theft and murder (due to having a cell phone that resembles a gun, or some such lame reasoning).

The “authorities” are frequentl more criminal than street thugs. A scam what am.

Sheesh. Lemme outta here.

Personanongrata says:

Banana Republic Meets Kangroo Courts

Still, it’s difficult to see (a) why he was arrested in the first place and (b) why he sat in jail for 8 months over a blog post. The whole case still just stinks of the DOJ getting angry at the guy because he didn’t roll over when they raided his house twice.

These are the types of governmental abuses that a reasonable person would expect to occur in a banana republic not in a nation whose government constantly bleats about rule of law and exceptionalism.

The only thing exceptional is the amount of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance on part of the tax-feeding turds infesting all levels of US government.

These fractions of Americans are such a complete disgrace they should be forced to resign posthaste but only after being locked in a cage for 8 months or so while having their homes emptied of all electronic gear.

Turnabout is fair play.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Sometimes it IS malice

Still, it’s difficult to see (a) why he was arrested in the first place and (b) why he sat in jail for 8 months over a blog post.

There are the questions…

The whole case still just stinks of the DOJ getting angry at the guy because he didn’t roll over when they raided his house twice.

… And there are the answers to them. They screwed him over because of a personal vendetta, because he challenged them and didn’t simply roll over and they decided to make an example out of him. It is almost certainly that simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

It shouldn’t need explanation that confronting the wife of a gang leader or mob boss is a very bad idea, and the same goes for agents of state power — police, FBI, and whatever else. Human nature being what it is, there’s little difference between street gangs and police agencies when it comes to protecting their women. The battle now becomes personal, with retribution -not law enforcement- the driving force.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

He made a stupid decision.
However he didn’t threaten to rip her head off and do unspeakable things with her neck hole.
He asked for his kids things back.

Considering her husband has terrorized his wife & children perhaps he thought she would be sympathetic as a parent. 3 raids, stealing their belongings 3 times…

The problem is the FBI is behaving like a street gang, they are doing everything they can to make his life hell. They are looking for reasons to cause more misery & harm well beyond anything they have experienced.

The simple fact they got the go ahead to raid the 2nd & 3rd times when they had nothing from the first raid & developed nothing new raises questions about what was told to the court.

On the upside this chapter pretty much seals the idea that no researcher will contact the company leaking again. Screaming CFAA because you failed basic infosec & getting the FBI to punish people pointing out you failed makes things very dangerous. They took responsible reporting & made it a crime… we all lose in this scenario.

David (profile) says:

Nathan is a douche

I have known a few people that went into the FBI.

They were upstanding people that I regarded highly. One told me he was leaving his position and didn’t offer his new job. I looked at him a bit and said, “FBI” causing him to look wide eye at me.

You would make a great fed, that’s all.

With luck my friends never had to work with the Nathan The Douche.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is asinine...

t) The defendant shall not have access to any computer.

(no qualifying clauses added)

(x) The Defendant shall be required to log onto his authorized computer…

Come again? One or the other of these cannot be satisfied.

As well:

Defendant shall not access any [peer to peer software or service like Skype, Bittorrent, etc]

He’s what, again? A computer security researcher? and he’s supposed to continue/seek employment? Without access to contact employers via the Internet? Really? Maybe they imagine he can work out of a day laborer shop or something?

John E Cressman (profile) says:

Is it time?

Is it time we mention the N word? Seriously, at what point does the DoJ start looking like jack-booted brown shirts?

This BS political correctness junk needs to be put in it’s place. A single contact IS NOT stalking. Just like, asking a woman for drinks ONCE is not sexual harassment.

It’s NORMAL HUMAN INTERACTION.

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