Electronic Frontier Foundation Rallies Behind Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer With Appeal

Categories: Law & Order, Tech

Thumbnail image for 551px-Weev-selfportrait-prophet.jpg
There he is .. in all his glory
We're no fonder of famed Internet troll Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer than anyone else in the blogosphere, and we've used just as many nasty words to describe him.

But words don't have quite the same weight as a three-and-a-half year federal prison sentence. That's the punishment hanging over Weev's head as he sits in federal prison, convicted for hacking into AT&T's systems, stealing the e-mails of 114,000 iPad users, and sending them to Gawker.

Federal prosecutors saw the crime as a nadir of Weev's Internet addiction, and dinged him by resurrecting a 1984 law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). But Weev's supporters say he's the victim of a witch-hunt, and that the iPad hack was actually an act of civil disobedience.

Their ranks include San Francisco-based attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who filed an appeal in the Third Circuit on Monday. They argued that AT&T had unfairly stretched the CFAA in order to pillory Weev and cover up an embarrassing flaw in its own security controls. Weev and his accomplice, Daniel Spitler, had used an automated script to download data -- including the e-mail addresses of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel -- but he hadn't bypassed any passwords, so his alleged "theft" didn't constitute "unauthorized access," according to EFF attorneys.

They argued, further, that Weev didn't share the e-mail addresses in order to commit a crime. Rather, he was trying -- in his own obnoxious, repellent, self-aggrandizing, troll-like way -- to do right by AT&T users.

The larger point, according to EFF attorney Hanni Fakhoury, is that if the feds win this case, they've also won a cart blanche to use the CFAA as a cudgel. "Let's consider what this means for the rest of us," he wrote in a post for Wired. "How's a person surfing the Internet supposed to know when they can or can't view information if there's no technical barrier to access?" Fakhoury added that if the Department of Justice gets to wield ambiguous terms like "authorization" for its own ends, then the rest of us could be thrown in jail for something as small as creating a fake MySpace account.

Originally drafted to protect computers that were run by stock exchanges, the CFAA recently cropped up in several high-profile hacker cases -- against Weev, Matthew Keys, Barrett Brown, and the late Aaron Swartz -- even as Silicon Valley companies have seized it as a sword in their intellectual property litigation. Not surprisingly, the law has created a huge fault-line in the tech sector: San Mateo Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren helped conceive a bill to reform it, but many corporations want the law in tact, to protect their assets.

Weev's lawyer Tor Ekeland pins the whole debate on a huge cultural shift in the Valley. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates used to hack into servers, too, he said, but the companies they started ultimately lost sight of those goals, even if they pay lip service to "disruption."

While everyone else spars about his fate, Weev has continued trolling - prodigiously -- from prison. He got thrown in solitary for using Twitter, but didn't let it dissuade him from posting to a Soundcloud account, or promoting a Kickstarter documentary about himself, or most recently posting a fairly incomprehensible essay on TechCrunch. Called "The Tiger and the Cicada," it was ostensibly about a creature that "stays underground with its whole generation for a prime number of years before its bursting in a stochastic, scale-free sea of mating and feasting."

Somehow that analogy seemed apropos.

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