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Journalist Matthew Keys Faces Prison Time Over a Law You've Probably Broken

Keys tells Reason the federal prosecutor railroaded him with felony charges in order to justify his own job.

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Matthew Keys, a 29-year-old California-based journalist, tells Reason that he believes he was aggressively prosecuted over a rather innocuous case of internet vandalism because a federal prosecutor needed to justify the continued existence of his own job, and thus used a broad and literal interpretation of a "antiquated and draconian law" to throw the book at Keys.

Keys, who was sentenced to two years in prison last week, was indicted in 2013 under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) for the alleged crime of sharing a password with hackers affiliated with Anonymous — the decentralized network of activist techo-criminals known for creating digital mischief at the expense of governments, corporations and other powerful institutions — who briefly defaced a single page on the Los Angeles Times' website in 2010.

Considering Keys faced a maximum of 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines for his three felony convictions of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer, one could argue his sentence was light. But when you examine the minimal damage done by his alleged crime, any hard time at all seems excessive. 

The "damage" done in this case occurred when a hacker changed a headline from "Pressure Builds in House to Pass

Felonies
Matthew Keys' defense court records

Tax-Cut Package" to "Pressure Builds in House to Elect CHIPPY 1337." The altered headline was discovered within 40 minutes, and corrected within three minutes. That's it. 

Prosecutors alleged that Keys was a disgruntled ex-employee of Sacramento's KTXL-TV (which along with the Times is owned by the Tribune Company) and that he shared his log-in credentials for Tribune websites with the hackers, instructing them to "go fuck some shit up." 

But Keys tells Reason that he believes the government's true motivation was to bully him into revealing the source material he had gathered in the months he spent investigating Anonymous by infiltrating some of their chat rooms.

Though Anonymous has been known to hack ISIS and the government of Iran, the hacktivist group has long been a thorn in the side of the U.S. government. In numerous incidents over the past decade, the hackers have stolen and leaked the personal data of thousands of government employees, often as a direct protest to policies members of the group find objectionable, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

Keys says that in 2012, FBI agents investigating Anonymous asked him to hand

Matthew Keys
Cyrus Farivar/ArsTechnica.com

over the investigative materials he had amassed, in order to help with the feds own inquiry into the secretive hacker enclave. Keys refused this request. Then at 5:45am on October 4, 2012, he was awoken by the sound of FBI agents executing a search warrant on his apartment. The agents grilled Keys about his involvement with Anonymous for about two hours before they left, taking his computer with them.

Without hearing another word about it from the government, on March 14, 2013, Keys found out via Twitter that he had been indicted on three felony counts, all related to the brief defacement of the Times' web page. On October 7, 2015 a jury that deliberated for less than a day sealed his fate, and the young journalist became a convicted felon facing the prospect of spending much of his adult life in federal prison.

Keys, who is appealing his conviction, steadfastly maintains his innocence. He says the government's claim of his motive makes no sense because he left the company on his own accord and maintained cordial relationships with his former colleagues and supervisors, even pitching them a few potential stories.

He explains, "My motivation for leaving was that there were no new opportunities there for me to pursue. The company had instituted hiring freezes, promotional freezes, salary freezes. They were laying people off left and right. I stayed there for two years and I felt like I had grown enough." But, he says, after doing his time in the mid-sized Sacramento market, he was ready to move to the East Coast and try to make it in the big leagues.

Eight months after leaving the Tribune-owned station, Keys got the opportunity to move to New York and work for Reuters as their deputy social media editor. Keys says, "My career focus was not on Tribune. It was my first professional opportunity in news. I did work there that I'm very proud of. I would not have wanted to undermine everything I did there by encouraging hackers to deface Tribune's digital property."

The reason Keys believes he has been prosecuted so vigorously is because, "It's Sacramento. How many computer crimes cases come across this prosecutor's desk? Not a whole lot." He adds that the prosecutor needs to justify his existence and that Keys' was a "case of opportunity for [the prosecutor] after he had lost a case involving this same group of hackers."

Keys continues, "Violations of the CFAA qualify as crimes of terrorism," and more prosecutions which feature the t-word mean more federal dollars for the jurisdiction in question. 

But, he adds, the CFAA covers "everything from stealing trade secrets to sharing your Netflix username and password." He also noted that Reddit's co-founder Aaron Swartz committed suicide after being aggressively prosecuted under the CFAA for the crime of mass downloading academic journals from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) server. 

Keys describes the CFAA as a "antiquated" 30-year-old law written before the world wide web even existed, and argues that it includes such broad language that ordinary Americans are almost always in violation of some portion of it. He admits being particularly concerned with the law's ramifications on his own profession, journalism. 

"Let's say you share your Netflix password with a friend or a family member," Keys explains. "You also happen to be working on a story about a massive leak of government secrets. And the government would really like to know what you have. They could do exactly what they did to me, to you. They'll investigate this crime to get to your source material. That seems like it shouldn't be allowed to happen."

To anyone who might think he's overstating the case, Keys adds, "Consider that [the Obama administration's] Justice Department has impersonated Associated Press reporters and gotten the phone logs of AP reporters. They've tried to go after two journalists, [the New York Times'] James Risen and [Fox News'] James Rosen, in two different leak investigations, threatening them both with jail time if they didn't reveal their sources."

Keys concedes that many people might not want to believe that an administration which has described itself as "the most transparent in history" would go after someone for so benign a crime. But in 2015, President Obama actually proposed broadening the law even further, as well as increasing penalties for violations. 

Following his sentencing, Keys wrote on Twitter that he and his lawyers are "not only going to work to reverse the conviction but try to change this absurd computer law, as best we can." He also says he hopes if any good can come out of his own prosecution, it would be for the public to understand how easily the perfect storm of an ambitious prosecutor and aggressive investigators using an arbitrarily applied law can gather to put the squeeze on someone who is an inconvenient obstacle to them. 

"When you really think about it that way," Keys says, "it doesn't seem so conspiratorial, does it?"

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article mentioned the maximum fine Keys faced as $500,000, it has been corrected to $750,000.

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138 responses to “Journalist Matthew Keys Faces Prison Time Over a Law You've Probably Broken

  1. Keys concedes that many people might not want to believe that an administration which has described itself as “the most transparent in history” would go after someone for so benign a crime.

    Those people are what we like to call low-information voters, and yes, they would never believe it until they were charged themselves. But hey, Obama’s prosecutors all want to be attorneys general and governors one day. You need to build a resume.

    1. Today’s low-information voter is tomorrow’s jurist.

    2. This is by no means a “benign” crime, and readers should resent the implication that they too have outrageously shared passwords with hackers. The law is the law, and we must send a clear message to anyone who might contemplate breaking it. To his credit, Keys did not disseminate inappropriately deadpan “parody” emails portraying a distinguished, and highly respectable, member of the academic community as “confessing” to plagiarism, a form of misconduct that everyone knows a high-ranking university professor would never engage in, especially at an institution of integrity such as NYU. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

      That being said, there was no excuse for what Keys did, and all of us should applaud the measures being taken to protect all of us not only from the Trolls of the Net, but from all those who would offer any assistance whatsoever to the Hackers.

      1. The Quixotic defense of Inner Party aggression shows there is no point to dishonest paltering with looter fascism and its brainwashees. Last mid-term election the LP averaged 3% in the Landover-Baptist dominated pelf-and-boodle state of Texas. Americans are FINALLY getting sick of berserk prohibitionists crashing the economy around their ears. How? Pass some cruel and unusual sentence for a victimless mischief law and use the threat to force people to betray their parents, spouses or loved ones to the slavering worshippers of mandatory minimum cages and asset forfeiture.
        To hit them where it hurts I vote libertarian. There is no sounder way to end their cruel torture and murder sprees, and take away the cushy government jobs ALL looters will eagerly kill their mothers to settle into. They hit us where it hurts, so, tit for tat. Man up to it.

        1. Come now, you are sounding almost like the judge who, before being forced to retire from the bench on account of his advanced age, authored the outrageous “First Amendment dissent” from the compelling, future-looking decision of the New York Court of Appeals in the above-linked case. There are no greater “aggressors” in our society than the Trolls and the Hackers of the Net. We must decisively stop them, before the problem gets worse. This is a real war going on here. No one, not even the so-called libertarians or the “free speech community” which of course is itself a joke, would defend the outrageous impersonation of a distinguished academic department chairman for “polemical” purposes that are clearly intended to damage a highly reputable, well-deserved reputation. The true question facing our great nation is, when will we have the courage to finally re-criminalize libel in any form it takes.

          1. /can’t tell if joking…

            1. Are you suggesting that there might be something humorous in what I’ve said, or in this terrible scourge confronting us all? Wake up and smell the coffee. Were it not for our courageous law enforcement agencies and their valiant efforts to suppress the Trolls and Hackers, this nation would be confronting a complete disaster. Find me any libertarian who agrees with the dangerous “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated, liberal judge and thinks it’s okay to go around confessing to plagiarism in the “name” of a university department chairman. No one in his right mind would dare make a fool of himself and argue in favor of such a foolish view.

    3. my stepmom got a nice 9 month old Chevrolet Equinox SUV just by some parttime working online with a macbook air. Read More Here ?????? http://goo.gl/JNLxe5

  2. Using 1337 unironically tells me all I need to know about Anonymous

    1. I’m not exactly a fan of Anonymous, but there’s nothing unironic about “uber skid Chippy 1337”, “skid” being short for “script kiddie”, a pejorative term.

  3. Not that I agree with any of the prosecutorial methods used, but he actually shared his information with a hacker group in order to commit a malicious act against the Tribune. Clearly his sentence is overblown, but my sympathies are limited.

    Sure, the punishment is a bit much, but don’t try and make him sound like he’s totally innocent.

    1. +1 Mustang — Keys is just spinning here. He shared password information with a hacker group who, potentially, could have caused serious damage.

      1. So people should be punished for how much damage they could potentially do?

        1. If the Tribune had instead had all of their employee’s personal information stolen, I imagine his sentence would have been longer than 2 years.

          I still think 2 years is a bit harsh considering the relatively benign harm that was ultimately done.. but imagine if someone had their identity stolen because of this – it can cause years of frustration and misfortune for the innocent person.

          In this case, potential damage is a big deal.

          1. So people should be punished for the damage they could potentially do rather than the damage they actually did?

            1. You’re introducing a false dichotomy here. Both should be considered and probably were, hence the punishment of 2 years instead of 25. Although, in my subjective opinion, I’d say its fair to argue that even 2 years is too much, considering that very little damage was actually done.

      2. Why not punish the Times for their failure to close-out the password of a former employee? They put themselves at risk of attack as much as Keys. If Keys was still an employee when it had happened, I could buy this proposition, but not otherwise.

      3. Except no measurable damage was done. Check your panties, Cro’s Immeasurable Retardedness — your nutsack’s missing.

    2. Agreed. This guy seems like a self entitled little shit. I am tired of these assholes who damage other peoples property and through up their hands in self righteous indignation that they are being prosecuted. Two years is a overdoing it but he needs to pay for his crime.

      1. So what would be a proportional punishment for the damage that 45 minutes of one slightly altered headline caused?

        1. Do you prefer to punish results, rather than intent? He aimed a malicious group at the newspaper and pulled the trigger. That he only clipped their arm, metaphorically, is irrelevant.

          1. Unlike you, drive-by griefer, I can’t see into men’s souls, so I can only judge their actual actions and the actual effects thereof.

            1. Great, now figure out how to get the US justice system to stop considering intent.

              1. My understanding is that mens rea doesn’t really figure into prosecutions anymore. Especially against people who didn’t know they were breaking the law.

            2. This person’s actual actions could have cause a lot worse actual effects. Believe it or not, that’s important. Attempted murder is still a serious crime, even if the intended victim gets away without a scratch.

            3. I can only judge their actual actions and the actual effects thereof

              His actual action was sharing his password. Whatever damage was done, was done by Anonymous. I’m not sure what a suitable punishment for sharing his password is (or if it should even be criminal) but I’m not so sure the that the damage that was inflicted should factor in to it.

              If he is being prosecuted for something like conspiracy, then maybe the damage caused should factor in, though. I don’t have a firm opinion on it.

        2. Do you prefer to punish results, rather than intent? He aimed a malicious group at the newspaper and pulled the trigger. That he only clipped their arm, metaphorically, is irrelevant.

        3. How about being forced to watch Obozo’s self-righteously vacuous speeches for 3 hours?

      2. One day a former employee is sharing his password. The next day – SOMALIA !!
        Holy shit, I have to check where I’ve wandered into a Mother Jones or Huffinglue Post comment thread.

    3. I agree. I will save my sympathy for victims of civil asset forfeiture, people targeted by the IRS for political reasons, reporters being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, and other victims of overcriminalization.

      And no Mr. Fisher, I have not provided computer passwords to criminal hackers who oppose trade agreements

      1. Good for you. Join the chorus of whiny little faggots above who want to throw the book at this guy,

  4. Keys is a fucking retard. Deliberately giving unauthorized people a password to allow them access to your company’s hardware and software is no different than a janitor giving the keys to the building to a bunch of burglars.

    1. Not really. One story got put up for like half an hour and then erased. What damage was actually caused, let alone damage to the point where he should spend two years in prison for it?

      1. Seems like he pretty clearly committed an act of aggression against the Tribune. You seem to be saying that because they didn’t cause THAT much damage that he’s somehow good to go. If I gave burglars the keys to my building and they didn’t steal anything (because they’re shitty burglars), it doesn’t change the fact that I still committed a malicious act.

        1. Seems like he pretty clearly committed an act of aggression against the Tribune.

          What evidence do you have for that claim? Keys claims he didn’t do it. Are you in possession of information that would help the FBI prosecute this case?

          1. It’s not clear whether Keys is actually saying he didn’t give someone his login or not. I’ve perused a few articles and I haven’t found him straight up denying that anywhere.

            1. It’s not clear whether Keys is actually saying he didn’t give someone his login or not. I’ve perused a few articles and I haven’t found him straight up denying that anywhere.

              Good. He’s listening to his lawyer(s).

          2. Read the links in the article. All we have to go off of is that Keys claimed he didn’t do it and that the FBI has evidence that he did. The article is incomplete and doesn’t provide any evidence for or against. I don’t trust the cops anymore than the next guy, but all I’ve got to go off of is what the court ruled (that he was guilty based on the evidence the FBI provided them). If they are unable to prove he is guilty during the appeal, then sure, he’s off the hook.

            I understand my claim that “he pretty clearly committed an act of aggression against the Tribune” is false based on the article. I should have said “If he did commit an act of aggression against the Tribune by providing Anonymous with his information…”

            1. understand my claim that “he pretty clearly committed an act of aggression against the Tribune” is false based on the article. I should have said “If he did commit an act of aggression against the Tribune by providing Anonymous with his information…”

              Fair enough.

              I don’t trust the cops anymore than the next guy, but all I’ve got to go off of is what the court ruled (that he was guilty based on the evidence the FBI provided them). If they are unable to prove he is guilty during the appeal, then sure, he’s off the hook.

              Keys claims he’s being railroaded out of spite for not cooperating with the Cybercops. Knowing how these cretins work (e.g., Aaron Swartz), I’m extra skeptical of any charge brought against him.

              1. Oh, so am I. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately if he’s guilty), the court decided otherwise, which is why he’s appealing.

                His responses just seem odd. He seems to be saying “yeah I did it, but I was punished excessively,” but I could be reading too much into it. If I was his lawyer (IANAL) I would be telling him to just shut up all together about excessive punishments and focus on the fact that he’s completely innocent.

          3. Good one! Get the National Socialist infiltrator to out himself to the tender mercies of his fellow National Socialist gnosse…
            The LP is pulling as many votes as the half-century average of the Prohibitionists (who infected the GOP) and communists/socialists (who infected the dems). I’m not surprised they’re assigning all sorts of deadwood shills to “talking sense” to the benighted libber-rarians.

        2. And you also wouldn’t be charged with a federal felony and face the possibility of 25 years in prison.

        3. Just to throw another analogy out there, since we’re doing that.

          A man rearranges the school’s sign to read, “School Canceled -Twinkie Day”. He is arrested for trespassing, vandalism, and throw something properly statist in there for realism, like interference with a public official in the course of their duties. And hey, just because he wasn’t smart enough to tag the building and break a few windows doesn’t change the fact that changing the sign was the act of a criminal mind.

          Let’s talk here, one with the other.

        4. True, but the punishment should fit the crime. That’s why rather than felonies or crimes as defined against the state, crimes should just be another form of tort with proportional restitution, which can involve something other than money. In your example, the victim (building owner) can choose to stage break-in and any random time at your house for restitution (essentially a reversal of the act). And once that’s done the debt is settled. It shouldn’t even depend of intent or mens rea, whether it’s malicious or not.

        5. So he should make the victim whole.

      2. Fuck this whiny hipster for giving out his password. Hacker’s are the scourge of the Web. They make my day miserable sometimes. Ever have to have some system pass an IA cert? Fucking sucks. I mean it’s only a small part of my job but I’d rather do other things with the stuff I design like add functionality instead of having to protect it against these vermin.

    2. Actually, it is different, because such a janitor would not face this:

      Considering Keys faced a maximum of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines

    3. Yeah, I don’t know, I mean two years in prison and a felony record is a bit much for helping someone be a knucklehead, but I’m not seeing anywhere where Keys actually says, “No, I did not give some random dude my login to my company’s webserver.” If anything, the issue here is that this should rightfully be considered a civil case, not a criminal case.

      1. I think I agree here. This seems like it would be better treated as a civil matter.

      2. His defense does seem to be “I’m being punished for my actions because of an outdated and excessive law.”

        I agree that it’s an outdated and excessive law. If he’s innocent then okay, but that’s not the way anything in the article is worded.

        1. Yes. That does sound like a curious argument to be made by somebody who is allegedly innocent. Saying, “I didn’t do it” is far more powerful a defense.

        2. This. Reading Keys’ own statement, he seems to straddle the line between “I’m being punished too harshly for what I did” and “I never passed anyone anything”.

      3. Attempting to gain unauthorized entry to private property that doesn’t belong to you is a crime, and he facilitated that crime.

        Surely you’re not arguing that if I break into your house, I haven’t committed a criminal act, are you? I hope not, because that would be an utterly moronic argument.

        1. It is consistent with a lot of past articles that vandalism is a harmless crime and should not be punished harshly if at all.

          1. When has Reason ever asserted that vandalism is harmless?

            1. Matthew Keys, a 29-year-old California-based journalist, tells Reason that he believes he was aggressively prosecuted over a rather innocuous case of internet vandalism because a federal prosecutor needed to justify the continued existence of his own job, and thus used a broad and literal interpretation of a “antiquated and draconian law” to throw the book at Keys.

              The first line of the article?

              Innocuous – not harmful or offensive

              1. You conveniently left out the qualifier “rather”.

                1. What? It’s in the quote.

                  That’s not a qualifier. The phrase “rather innocuous” means “rather harmless.”

                  1. I know it’s in the quote. You left it out of your interpretation. Changing text on a webpage for 45 minutes is mostly harmless, which is not the same as harmless.

                    1. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know how to answer someone who is deliberately obfuscating the language. Whether or not it was “somewhat harmless” or “completely harmless” doesn’t negate the fact that Reason has, in this article, claimed that vandalism is in some way harmless. You’re trying to argue using terms that are not objective in any way, and I simply can’t argue with undefined terms.

                    2. So you’ve shifted from accusing Reason of saying that vandalism is “harmless” to accusing them of saying that it’s “in some way harmless” now, and yet you accuse me of obfuscation?

                    3. Yes. You are using terms such as “mostly harmless,” which are completely undefined. It doesn’t change the fact that Reason (or at least the author) considers this particular individual’s actions as harmless.

                      You’re clearly arguing for the sake of arguing. Best of luck to you.

        2. Attempting to gain unauthorized entry to private property that doesn’t belong to you is a crime, and he facilitated that crime.

          Not necessarily.

          If your property contains something attractive, like a pool for example, then you are inviting trespass so it is your responsibility to make a reasonable attempt to fence it off to keep a trespasser out.

          Is it really reasonable to think an employer routinely keeps logins and passwords active for ex-employees? Tribune basically invited the entry, so it isn’t a trespass.

          If this was Tribune vs Keys, the jury would have probably have found Keys not guilty, and Tribune wouldn’t even have to meet the “reasonable doubt” standard. But most people are scared shitless of their own government and will defer to them no matter what, especially if they play the terrorism card.

          1. This is one of the most asinine things I’ve ever read in my life. This is like saying that if you’re in a hurry and you forget to lock your car doors one time, that means that you’re “inviting” me to let myself into your car and take everything that’s inside.

            I have to assume that you’re just being a Devil’s Advocate to the point of absurdity, because you can’t possibly be serious with this nonsense.

          2. From I understand “attractive nuisance” are for things that are in plain sight and potentially dangerous (especially to children). I don’t think the Tribune’s network qualifies as either.

        3. Attempting to gain unauthorized entry to private property

          He had an active account. Therefore he was authorized.

          1. He wasn’t authorized to give that information away to a hacker group.

            1. not to nitpick, but as a former employee was he expressly restricted from sharing his login after he left? Was he asked to sign something before he left agreeing not to share any info or access he acquired while working there? when he originally took the job?

              in many ways it is the equivalent of leaving your job at a theater and then allowing your buddy to try and use your old employee badge to get into a free movie. Dick move, but legally isn’t the theater responsible for asking for the badge, deactivating it or switching them up after you leave? Not talking in a reasonable (we should respect property and verbal agreements and ethics)sense, but legally isn’t there some responsibility to the old employer to take steps or get a signature on an agreement from employee moving on?

              1. and to clarify, the newspaper or DA is within his rights to go after the people who commit the fraud or perpetrate the damage, but passing along or allowing info to be used by someone else is very very iffy. Kind of like movie theater scenario where they go after old employee and the person sneaking in

        4. Whatever a roomful of looter Congressmen say is a crime becomes a crime in the books that tell their cops to gun people down. More important is to keep in mind what a law is. A law is an offer to use harmful, coercive, deadly force to stop someone from doing something, make him wish he hadn’t, and impress bystanders with the resolve of hired gunmen instructed to kill as many as need killing to make it stick. The instant case is vandalizing a few square inches of pixels–the stuff we paid National Lampoon and The Onion to do.

          By the way… is the poor bleeding victim one of the beneficiaries of Nixon’s anti-libertarian campaign subsidies law? Half their aggrieved and indignant staff seems to have moved to the commentariat alluva sudden, terrified of how close those pixels could have possibly come to maybe a hypothetical Armageddon or a Global Extinction event.

          1. ^bingo

      4. What really confuses me is why a publication wouldn’t immediately revoke the credentials of anyone that left the company. That’s some sloppy shit right there, but it clearly doesn’t justify the guy giving away his credentials online. Personally, I’d say the guy had a very real expectation that those credentials were no longer valid and therefore were useless, but I wouldn’t pretend this journalist is lily white in all this. Just that this is not a ‘felony’ caliber crime in my mind. (Although obviously my mind is never asked about these things.)

  5. I swear the next asshole who says ‘it’s settled’ that Obama is one of the all-time greats is gonna get and earful and then a smack to the back of the head.

    /turns woodchipper on.

    1. About the transparency thing.

      1. As opposed to everything else he’s great at?

        1. He is great at being cool.

          1. +1 pair of mom jeans

    2. “it’s settled’ that Obama is one of the all-time great” asshole presidents

      1. He’s a marxist / fascist piece of shit with delusions of grandeur who, in a just world, would have been impeached long ago.

  6. Likelyhood his computer was infected with a keystroke logger while infiltrating some of their chat rooms?

  7. I’m fine with this, yes the prank seems innocuous but how would you feel if some one broke into your house and wrote on your chalk board. Some people would shoot the person just for being in their house. Some times punishment is required.

    1. Just the other day, somebody broke into my man cave and wrote “Ha ha jokes on you Batman” on one of my outfits.

      Not cool.

      1. At least no one tugged on your cape.

    2. They would shoot the person because an unknown intruder in their house is a threat to their physical safety. If they shot somebody walking out the door carrying their TV, they would go to jail.

    3. Explain to me how you can have an active login and yet be unauthorized. The active account made him authorized.

      1. It made him authorized, not some random jackoff.

  8. Sorry, but if your login credentials for your employer’s content management system end up in the hands of Anonymous, that can’t be explained away as “I didn’t intend that”.

    On the other hand, I think this shouldn’t be a federal issue or a felony, it should be something his employer should be able to sue him for in civil court. Damages may be significant because after such an incident, the employer has to do an audit to ensure that nothing else was altered.

    1. Why did he even HAVE login credentials? He quit his job. Do employers routinely let ex-employees continue to have access?

      This is straight-up negligence on Tribune’s part.

      1. Sure, it was a mistake on the Tribune’s part. He’s still legally responsible for his own actions and choices.

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  10. What the fuck is this “a law you’ve probably broken” shit? Has it come to this for even the great Matt Welch?

    1. Not even Welch is dumb enough to give his Reason credentials over to Obama for America or Hillary 2016, as tempted as he probably is to do that every minute of the day.

    2. Wasn’t Lori Drew prosecuted under the CFAA?

      1. isn’t Lori Drew the woman who created a false person by the name of Joshua Evans in an attempt to see if her daughter’s friend Megan Meirer was spreading false lies about her, she continued to have a relationship with this kid then broke up with her suddenly and had people send negative comments to the kid along with herself, this grown woman doing things kids usually? she was found not guilty of the counts two through four in which she was indicted but was found guilty of a misdemeanour violation of the CFAA, she then asked for a motion for acquital and was granted that acquittal by the U.S. District Judge George H. Wu this came about due to lack of evidence that she actually did violate the CFAA with what she did so to answer your question yes she was prosecuted and yes she was convicted but was later acquitted so she’s free to go torture someone else’s kid via internet until they kid commit suicide cause apparently the yank’s judicial system doesn’t care.

  11. And yet Hillary walks free. Excuses me, slithers free.

  12. He also says he hopes if any good can come out of his own prosecution, it would be for the public to understand how easily the perfect storm of an ambitious prosecutor and aggressive investigators using an arbitrarily applied law can gather to put the squeeze on someone who is an inconvenient obstacle to them.

    If the public doesn’t understand this already it’s only through willful ignorance, the idea that “well, yeah, but that’s never going to happen to me. Anybody with even the least bit of interest in malicious prosecution can find dozens of stories of people getting nailed to the wall for stuff that’s pretty dubiously related to the law in question – like referring to an internet prank as “terrorism”. If the guy had a pocketknife on him while he committed this terroristic act, I’m sure there could have been a federal weapons charge in there as well.

  13. What law have I probably broken?

    I don’t recall ever giving out my password/login info to anybody, let alone hacker groups, at any of my jobs. I also don’t write my passwords down, so I haven’t given them away indirectly either.

    1. Did you miss this part?

      But, he adds, the CFAA covers “everything from stealing trade secrets to sharing your Netflix username and password.”

      1. That is not what he is being prosecuted for, nor is there anytjing suggesting someone else is being prosecuted for.

        1. Whether somebody is prosecuted or not has nothing to do with whether or not they’ve broken the law. The point is this law is shit and can be used to pile onto anybody who the government dislikes.

          1. Well at least it’s different from all the rest then.

          2. It is just a red herring in his case.

  14. My bet is that he gave Anonymous the login/passwords to build his bonafides. “look, I’m one of you! Here I’ll prove it: I just hacked this newspaper.”

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  16. This case is very confusing and Keys’ defense of himself is also very confusing.

    I’m not sure why Keys writes: “As I’ve previously written, nobody should face terrorism charges for passing a Netflix username and password.”

    That, in an of itself is a reasonable statement. No, no one should face terrorism charges for passing a netflix username and password. But is he analogizing here? Has he compared giving the password of the Tribune’s computers to a hacker group as passing a netflix password? Is that a tacit admission that he did hand over his credentials, but he feels the punishment doesn’t fit the crime? Or is he denying he ever passed any credentials over?

    1. I think it’s safe to say that he’s analogising but what he did and someone being stupid enough to share their passwords to their networks with others are not the same it seems like he isn’t exactly denying the accusations but just dancing around the situation.

      so idk why Keys would even try to compare the two

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  18. I’m surprised at some of the defenses for Keys I am seeing here. True, the hackers did not create serious harm. But that is a defense for them. As far as keys goes, he neither knew their true intentions nor had any control over them. Once he handed them the password, he had no way of knowing whether they would commit a harmless prank or create millions of dollars worth of damage.

    As for the law being over-broad, which it clearly is, that is not necessarily a defense for him. A court can always deal with an over towards stat that is not necessarily a defense for him. A court can deal with an over-broad statute by applying it narrowly. Handing a private password to a group of known criminal hackers you have been “investigating,” without the consent of the password owner is quite different from voluntarily sharing a Netflix password.

    1. Damn voice function…

    2. they acquitted Lori Drew even though she is guilty as sin so is it safe to say that he will more than likely be acquitted if he files for an acquittal? Or is it different I mean they said they didn’t have proof of he intentions when they did and somehow she managed to get away with causing someone’s kid to kill themselves.

  19. “one could argue his sentence was light.”

    No, no you couldn’t.

  20. How does changing the data on it “damage a computer”?

    1. good question I mean people change the data on computers on a daily so idk….

    2. Same question also occurred to me.

  21. WTF. I don’t share my passwords with hackers or anyone else.

  22. Too bad they don’t put as much effort into dealing with spammers.

  23. The Real Science blog was retasked without permission by an idiot with credentials who scared folks by announcing our scientific historian blogger had died. The real blogger is pissed, but not pressing charges because the perp “needs help.” Many thought this overly lenient, but this is still much closer to balanced than the orgy of excessive coercion reported here.

  24. Trying to break it down and wrap my brain around it:

    1. If Keys gave his username and password to hackers, then the Tribune has a legitimate grievance against him. Whether this should be a criminal or civil matter, I don’t know.

    2. However, it does seem odd that his login credentials remained valid after separation from his employer. Perhaps the Tribune allows authors to maintain some level of access to their work after separation, but one would think their account would be subject to certain limitations.

    3. The scope of possible damage is important. Compromising the security of an account that allows editing of news headlines is not comparable to giving away missile codes.

    I imagine Keys might have thought “There isn’t much harm that they can do with my low-level account, and this will buy me some trust with the group and further my ability to learn and write about them.” This doesn’t excuse his action, of course (if he did it).

    4. Were the Feds being vindictive? It depends on whether the FBI had legitimate reason to suspect that Keys was actually working with the hackers. Protecting his sources should not have been sufficient cause for a warrant. Fourth Amendment, etc.

    5. The CFAA might be overly broad (and a bad law for other reasons), but the fact some innocuous actions (sharing your Netflix password) can be persecuted under the law does not seem especially relevant to this case.

    1. 6. Irrelevant but amusing: Keys gave away the key to the Tribune. 😛

  25. The issue is not (solely) the damage done

    The issue is (remember as I always say – the essence of the law is intent) that IF (and as best I can tell from the article – he was convicted die claims that he) provided the password and told them to fuck stuff up AND of course he would have had knowledge that Anonymous is well capable of and frequently has done exactly that

    If you provide the MEANS to a criminal you know engages in a certain form of conduct and even TELL them to do their thing, the fact that what they ended up doing was relatively minor does not diminish the conspiracy/accessory before the fact:criminal attempt etc aspects

    If dude is known to break legs, and you give him a bat and point to Johnny and say ‘fuck him up’ and dude only gives Johnny a couple of slaps you are still going to get convicted of a felony because you took an overt act towards what you had every reason to believe was going to be a felonious assehipping

    It is not the same thing as sharing your Netflix password

    i agree it’s an absurdly draconian sentence but it is hardly the non-issue reason portrays it as

    It’s also different from messing with somebody’s Facebook page or blog since it’s a ;theoretically) website viewed by scores of thousands if not millions who rely on it for news etc

    Again – bad law. Bad sentence.

    1. But assuming he did what he was convicted of , what he was convicted of WAS a serious offense and not akin to sharing a Netflix password with your neighbor so they can watch a movie for free (which whatever stupid internet laws apply is essentially a misdemeanor theft of services… IF you both access at the same time. Otherwise I consider it as falling under the ‘shared book’) principle

  26. Sounds like “the majesty of government is offended”. Someone has to suffer, for such grevous offenses.

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  28. Did this story get linked to Gawker at some point?
    I can’t recall so many commenters pant-shitting over something so trivial.
    So many people burned through soemuch credibility on this thread.

    1. By that I mean so many commenters wanting to hang this guy as if what he did amounted to anything.

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  30. It doesn’t seem so conspiratorial
    Does it?

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  32. Words from Lenny Bruce (paraphrased).

    Never try argue the law in court. At least, not in the trial phase. Judges and prosecutors are only interested in the facts. You want to argue the law? Write your congresscritter.

  33. Hackers, even those who think they are serving the public interest, are a plague on our computer driven society. It is only through fear of retaliation that I don’t say more.

    And that is a comment in itself about the state of affairs we find ourselves in.

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