Computer hacker protests sentence; will appeal white collar charges

A well-known computer hacker — portrayed by some in a chivalrous right, with others deeming his conduct flatly nefarious — has stated that he will appeal his conviction on computer-related white collar crime charges brought against him in a case involving AT&T.

Andrew Auernheimer, AKA “the AT&T hacker, was taken to trial in New Jersey and ultimately convicted on charges of conspiracy to access a computer without authorization and fraud respecting personal information. He was sentenced to a 41-month prison term and a probationary term of three years, and also ordered to pay $73,000 in restitution to AT&T for remedial actions the company states it was mandated to take following his actions.

Auernheimer’s legal team says that the judgment sets bad precedent for what constitutes unauthorized access under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. What is uncontroverted is that Auernheimer obtained more than 100,000 email addresses of AT& users and made them public. However, the AT&T website he accessed to procure those addresses was not protected or behind any security firewall; rather, it was unprotected and available to any public person with a base level of computer knowledge and a willingness to invest a bit of time.

Auernheimer’s actions, while viewed as criminal by authorities, have been deemed as salutary by some commentators. They note that the divulging of information can essentially be seen as the performing of a public service, given that it will encourage AT&T and other companies to be more careful in the future with consumer information that they are currently overly cavalier in guarding.

Although Auernheimer never accessed any New Jersey-based AT&T websites, he was charged there because some of the email addresses accessed were from residents in that state.

Auernheimer’s legal team believes that the matter should fall under federal law, given the similarity between states’ laws regarding unauthorized access to computers and federal legislation on the same subject. Auernheimer was charged with a felony under New Jersey law. His defense team says that his offense is customarily deemed a misdemeanor under federal law.

Source: TechCrunch, “Andrew ‘weev’ Auernheimer obtains new lawyer, files appeal,” Jordan Crook, March 22, 2013