Washington Post on United States v. Auernheimer

Last month, I blogged about why I agreed to represent Andrew Auernheimer pro bono in his appeal before the Third Circuit. Tomorrow’s Washington Post has a front-page story by Jerry Markon focusing on the case. It begins:

Their guns drawn, a dozen federal agents, police and forensics experts kicked in the door of a run-down two-story home in Arkansas shortly after dawn, barged inside and ordered the occupants to put their hands on their heads.

The target of the raid was neither terrorist nor bank robber. He was a 24-year-old computer hacker suspected of handing off stolen e-mail addresses to the media.

With that, the Justice Department began a case that has come to symbolize what some lawyers and civil libertarians see as overreach in the government’s campaign against cybercrime.

The hacker, Andrew Auernheimer, was convicted and sentenced last month to more than three years in prison for obtaining about 120,000 e-mail addresses of iPad users from AT&T’s Web site — including New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I), Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein and other prominent figures — and giving them to the Web site Gawker. When it happened three years ago, the data breach jolted federal officials because it affected one of the nation’s most prominent companies and triggered fears about the security of increasingly popular mobile devices.

Yet only a few, heavily redacted e-mail addresses were published, court documents show. No one’s account was broken into. AT&T fixed the problem in about an hour, and a company official testified that there probably was not enough evidence to sue the hackers.

The case highlights a growing debate over how to define right and wrong in the digital age, what is public and proprietary online, and how far law enforcement should go in pursuing cybercrime.

The Obama administration is confronting what it calls a vast cybersecurity threat, and the Justice Department is waging aggressive efforts, including against national security threats such as cyberterrorism and cyber-espionage. But a series of recent cases involving other types of online activity has prompted criticism that the crackdown may also be scooping up minor hackers who may see themselves as political or anti-corporate activists.

On a related note, the latest issue of the ABA Journal has this article: Hacker’s Hell: Many Want to Narrow the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

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