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Vaguely Disturbing by Calculation

Ruben Bolling
© Ruben Bolling

Yes it’s true, federal laws against computer crime are so vague and overreaching that pretty much everyone is guilty of violating them. Of course, these laws are invoked only when you piss someone powerful off, like Aaron Schwartz did.

I have a friend who discovered that some computers at the company where he worked as a system administrator were improperly secured. This embarrassed the VP responsible so much that he called the police. The crime? Breaking into a computer, a felony. Even though there was no intent to steal anything, damage any computers, or do anything else nefarious, he was convicted.



  1. ebdoug wrote:

    I hope he appealed his conviction. That is ludicrous.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    I should have mentioned, after a long legal battle he was able to have the felony conviction vacated (which means that he is no longer a felon).

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink
  3. PatriotSGT wrote:

    It is truly amazing just how many different laws are on the books across the country and the more astonishing thing is that hundreds if not more are added every year. The other part of that is the number of old obsolete laws still on the books that are used for unequal modern crimes. An example is a city close to me where they did not have automobile theft laws, but instead use a stolen livestock laws to persecute auto thieves.
    Now the part I don’t like is when the government decides which laws it will or won’t enforce. That screams inequality and abuse of power that can used to target all sorts of opponents, critics, or detractors. (remind anyone of a modern historical time?)

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  4. Scott Segraves wrote:

    But was he able to have his legal fees ‘vacated?’

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink
  5. rk wrote:

    This is very similar to the Randal Schwartz case in the early 1990s. An admin at Intel was trying to demonstrate that most employees had very weak passwords. He hacked some to demonstrate the case. Someone complained and the feds got involved. Intel did not want to prosecute, but the feds did. I don’t remember all the details, I believe he ended up with probation.

    Found some info here:

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    RK, it is very similar because that is exactly who I was talking about. And I’m not sure why you are saying that Intel didn’t want to prosecute.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  7. Duckman wrote:


    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  8. ebdoug wrote:

    Does this man look like a felon? Took until 2007 for him to clear his record.

    Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink
  9. Michael wrote:

    And then there was Terry Childs, who caused a denial of service…despite the system never actually having an outage. (Technically, the DoS was the denial of others to *administer* the system. It’s a long, strange case…)

    Or Jammie Thomas, fined $222,000 for stealing $23.76 worth of music. Here’s an interesting way to think of that one: Let’s say she has to pay that off with a 5% annual interest rate. If she works hard, paying almost $1500 per month just toward that fine, it will take her 20 years of labor to pay it off. She’d have to have about an $11-$12/hour full-time job (deducting ~20% for taxes) to pay that off. Of course, she’d have to have another full-time job on top of that to pay for food, housing, utilities, personal care, etc.

    When Jean Valjean served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, he at least got free room and board during his years of labor. Jammie doesn’t get that, despite the fact that what she stole isn’t worth much more than a few loaves.

    And Joel Tenenbaum…

    The intersection technology and law is, quite frankly, destroying the lives of select individuals.

    Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink