Reuters Editor Faces 10 Years In Prison Because Vandalism Is A Federal Crime When It Involves Computers

from the don't-do-that dept

In what seems like a pretty cut and dry case, Reuters editor Matthew Keys has been indicted for letting some hackers into the content management system of his former employer, Tribune, after he was fired. Barring a case of mistaken identity (and if that defence were raised, things would get interesting) it doesn't look good for Keys, as the indictment includes some damning IRC chat logs:

According to a federal indictment first obtained by the Huffington Post, Keys used a chat site to pass information to Anonymous. Using the name AESCracked, Keys handed over the login credentials and told hackers to "go fuck some shit up", the indictment says.

The hacker accessed at least one Los Angeles Times story and altered it, the charges say.

On the one hand, when compared what happened with Aaron Swartz, this is a step in the right direction. We're not talking about someone with positive intentions who walked the line between hacking and innovation, but someone who acted with obvious malice. But on the other hand, this highlights the big problem with federal hacking laws. The damage amounted to little more than inconvenience for a system administrator, making this essentially a case of small-scale vandalism—but because it involves computers, it's elevated to a federal crime. This really makes no sense. Computers and the internet are present in every part of life today, and computer crime can happen at every scale. In this case, it was the sort of reckless but small act of spite that would result in a much less serious punishment if it didn't happen online, and if it didn't allow the government to place Anonymous in the villain role of another story.

The case against Keys looks strong, and I'm guessing it will end with some sort of deal for a lesser punishment—possibly in exchange for information about other hackers. The real penalty will be the damage done to his career by this breach of trust (which further highlights the pointlessness of trying to put him in jail), but the biggest takeaway is that federal computer crime laws are in serious need of reform. Elevating the severity of simple crimes because they involve what is now one of the most common tools in the world is a senseless imbalance of justice, and makes it much harder to identify and combat serious crime online.

Filed Under: anonymous, cfaa, hacking, matthew keys, vandalism


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  1. icon
    Wally (profile), 15 Mar 2013 @ 4:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Trolls just please shut up...here's why...

    You want to talk the US Constitution...fine, you've got it dude:

    The intent was malicious intent, and that is not covered freedom of expression

    That being said, it seems to me that people are wrongfully comparing this to the case of Aaron Swartz's rights being violated in the same sense of his activist activities. Please tell me when Aaron Swartz ever gained illegal access to a website's server only to deface a former employer's web page? Since when did Aaron Swartz ever to intend to hand over the information he gathered to the wrong people to be used against his former employer?

    Lets look at what Aaron Swartz's clear intentions were before we start making snap judgments and comparisons to Mr. Keys here....

    Aaron Swartz intended to release public domain information and documents that you had to pay JSTR or PACER to see the documents digitally. That is peaceably protesting and taking the extra step for the greater good of everyone.

    Matthew Keys intended to have hackers deface the web page of his former employer, the LA Times, with his security credentials.

    Which person had a better intent here??? Which person actually had a chance to defeat the charges stacked up on them?

    It is extremely evident that Matthew Keys violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act via direct second person accessory. There is no way in Hell that defacing the LA Times' website is an act of freedom of expression because when that happens, it violates the freedom of expression that the LA Times has a right to under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and simultaneously the freedom of the Press clauses therein.

    In short, his method was illegal according to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as he was second party to the act he willfully conspired with or hired/convinced others to deface the LA Times website, and he violated the very Constitutional rights rights of the LA Times by having their website defaced.

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