Are We Too Hard On Hackers?

Hanni Fakhoury thinks so. He points to the disparity between sentences for physical and digital vandalism:

Take the case of Matthew Keys, a former social media editor at Reuters, charged with violating the CFAA in federal court in Sacramento.

He allegedly turned over the username and password of a server belonging to the Tribune Company to members of Anonymous, who made changes to the article of a headline in a Los Angeles Times story online. Among other changes, the headline was changed from “Pressure builds in House to pass tax-cut package” to “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.” It seems like a clear-cut case of vandalism, a prank that caused some damage but little other harm.

Under California law, physical vandalism – like spray painting graffiti on a building — can be punished as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with probation available for both types of charges. If probation is granted, the longest sentence a defendant can serve as a condition of probation is one year in county jail.

But look at the punishment awaiting Keys. He didn’t get charged with a misdemeanor; he got indicted on three felony charges, for which he faces a harsh prison sentence. No, he won’t get anything close to the 10-year maximum. But a cursory calculation of his potential sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines suggest he’s looking at a sentence between 21 and 27 months — about three years of his life — if he decides to go to trial and loses.

Related Dish on the new Aaron Schwartz documentary here.