Digital rights activists are using a recent security breach involving the secretive group Anonymous as an opportunity to rail against a federal anti-hacking law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation isn't defending the alleged actions of Matthew Keys, a former Tribune Company employee who could face as much as 25 years of jail time over federal charges accusing him of conspiring with members of Anonymous to hack into a Tribune website.
But the San Francisco-based advocacy group says current law means cyber crimes are often prosecuted much more severely than crimes of violence.
The EFF likens Keys' case to the Justice Department's prosecution of political activist and Internet innovator Aaron Swartz, in which he faced a maximumsentence of 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Swartz committed suicide in January.
His family later released a statement declaring that his death wasn't just a personal tragedy, but "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."
This week, the DOJ announced Keys' indictment for violating the CFAA by giving members of Anonymous the login credentials for the Tribune Company's content management system. As a result, the system was breached and an altered news story appeared on the Los Angeles Times website for about a half hour.
Does Keys' alleged involvement warrant three felony charges and potentially a quarter century worth of prison time? Crime requires punishment, of course, but the EFF points out that 25 years would be "an extremely long jail sentence for a crime that caused little harm."
While details from the case are still shaking out, his lawyers are claiming his actions were part of undercover journalism .
Keys also has been suspended with pay from Reuters, the global news agency where he was employed as a deputy social media editor, even though the alleged incident occurred before he joined the company. Reuters has reported that Keys' work station was being dismantled and his security pass was deactivated.
Thomson Reuters said in a statement Saturday that it is committed to obeying the rules and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates, and it noted that Keys' alleged conduct occurred before he joined Reuters.