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
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 15 Mar 2013 @ 8:26am

    Re:

    a) it's conspiracy, not aiding and abetting- he is the hacking equivalent of someone who hires a hitman to commit a crime.

    Who cares if it's "conspiracy"? Conspiracy is generally just a charge that gets tacked on every time a crime involves two or more people talking. I could "conspire" with my friend to jaywalk and that wouldn't make it a federal crime.

    b) he wanted them to "go fuck some shit up"- sounds more like he wanted them to do more damage and they refused to me.

    Maybe. I still don't see what makes it a federal crime, other than "computers!"

    c) it's punished severely because when the law was drafted, hacking was generally only done to cause severe damage.
    Does the law need to be updated? probably. it doesn't necessarily make it ridiculous.


    I don't think we're in disagreement here about anything other than the appropriateness of the term "ridiculous". I consider an old and obsolete law badly in need of an update that is still enforced despite not making much sense in a case like this to be exactly that.

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