U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Affirms Sentence of Hacker-Journalist

For a twisted technology crime, former journalist Matthew Keys got a simple decision from an appeals court on his conviction and two-year sentence.

Taking only six pages to state the facts, law, and conclusion against the convicted hacker, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. His lawyers had tried to persuade the court that Keys did not cause any damage.

"Keys makes a scattershot of arguments concerning damage and loss, none of which is persuasive," the court said in United States of America v. Keys, an unpublished opinion.

LA Times Hack

Keys, a former employee of the Tribune Company, was prosecuted under the controversial anti-hacking law from the 1980s. He was convicted of giving the company's log-in credentials to hackers who used them to temporarily change a headline on the Los Angeles Times, which is owned by the Tribune Co.

His attorneys argued at trial that it was a prank, but the judge sentenced him to two years in federal prison on three counts of conspiracy and criminal hacking. On appeal, his lawyers said the conviction should be overturned because the Times did not suffer any damage.

The Ninth Circuit said damages occurred when the hackers got into the system. "The temporary unavailability of the original article, and the posting of an altered version, fall within the statutory definition of 'damage,'" the judges said.

Although Keys did not have the computer knowledge to make the changes himself, the court said he was still responsible for the damage that resulted. The company had to rebuild its database to contain the problem at a cost of $200,000.

"Starting essentially from square one, the database took three years to rebuild," the court said, affirming a restitution order against the defendant.

Quick Work

The hack lasted about 40 minutes. It took the court about two weeks to prepare its decision. Mark Jaffee, one of the appellate attorneys, said he was "struck" by the quick work.

"I didn't expect something to be issued so quickly and so tersely," he told ArsTechnica.

Keys, who is housed at the prison camp at Atwater, California, told reports via email that he was "extremely disappointed."

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