Tech & society

Palin email Hacker Pleads Not Guilty

According to the Christian Science Monitor, 20-year-old David Kernell,  son of Rep. Mike Kernell (D), chair of the Tennessee Government Operations Committee, has pleaded not guilty to one felony count of “accessing a computer without permission.” See the indictment (pdf).

Gov. Palin’s personal Yahoo! email account was hacked into in September. You can see hacked material on WikiLeaks. Kernell turned himself in after he learned that he would be charged.

Internet response is interesting. A senior editor at ZDNet seems to think the crime is no big deal. Given that a Hawaiian postal carrier was sentenced to only six months for stealing mail — maybe he’s right. But it takes a lot more initiative — and premediation — to break into someone’s personal email account than it does to fail to deliver a piece of mail.

Here’s the federal statute on mail:

Title 18 Section 1708 Theft or receipt of stolen mail generally: Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post office, or station thereof, letter box, mail receptacle, or any mail route or authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or thing contained therein… Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years.

If convicted, Kernell faces a maximum of five years in prison (just like US mail), a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

Wired reported
last month:

The hacker said that he read all of the e-mails in the Palin account
and found “nothing incriminating, nothing that would derail her
campaign as I had hoped. All I saw was personal stuff, some clerical
stuff from when she was governor…. And pictures of her family.”

In contemporary postings, the hacker indicated that he knew what he was doing was a crime… “if this s*** ever got to the FBI I was f*****, I panicked…”

What do you think? How much of a crime is it if you break into a public official’s private email account?

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

One reply on “Palin email Hacker Pleads Not Guilty”

Postal mail statutes do not apply to email.
As an aside, anyone who sends un-encrypted email should assume that someone other than the intended recipient is or could easily be reading it.

“How much of a crime is it if you break into a public official’s private email account?” It’s the same crime as if you break into John Q. Public’s email account.
I don’t know if, as a hacker, you should get any whistle-blower “extra credit” if the public official has been using their personal account for public business.

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