After attending the sentencing hearing for Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, convicted of accessing an AT&T database containing customer email addresses in order to expose the company’s lax security, Molly Crabapple fumes:
[T]he email addresses AT&T claimed he stole were on publicly accessible web pages. Weev’s group, Goatse Security, just had to guess the URLs. Weev and his partners compiled 114,000 addresses, sent them to Gawker, and shamed AT&T epically. Supporters argued that he had done nothing illegal—that his prosecution was the latest warning shot against anyone able to use computers to embarrass power. … The prosecutors spun the tale of a brilliant young sociopath. They quoted his Reddit AMA three times, then some drama around Encylclopedia Dramatica. They called him “highly intelligent” to justify his sentence. They led a populist diatribe against individuals with “special [computer] skills” and the power they wielded over the unskilled common man.
And the sentence?
… 41 months of prison, three years of probation, and $73,000 restitution to AT&T. He will serve more years than the Steubenville rapists.
The scapegoating of Auernheimer is revolting for two reasons.
One, it lets AT&T off the hook for exposing sensitive information to public view, shifting the blame onto those who reported the slip-up, and discouraging future disclosure. Two, the jailing of Auernheimer criminalizes the act of fetching openly available data over the web. …
[F]ederal prosecutors are doing their best to punish and deter security whistleblowers, and thus to help large corporations cover up their endless bungling of customer privacy. That only increases the vulnerability of those of us who depend on those corporations. Goatse Security won’t be the last ad hoc band of hackers to stumble on a large-scale web vulnerability. But it could be the among the last to report its findings so openly, a development that’s only going to hurt the very citizens the Justice Department purports to serve.
John Knefel adds:
The added irony that AT&T, the target of Auernheimer’s action, and other telecoms were granted retroactive immunity after spying on Americans without warrants – a crime far more significant than anything Weev, Swartz or Keys did – only heightens the sense of injustice.
(Photo of Auernheimer from Wikimedia Commons)