Prank doesn't merit prison for editor: Attorney



San Francisco: Prosecutors say a journalist conspired with hackers to cause an online security breach that should be punished by decades in prison. But online supporters say Matthew Keys was just taking part in a prank that briefly altered the Los Angeles Times' website and shouldn't be treated so harshly.

The case against Keys, 26, lays bare sharp divisions about what constitutes Internet crime and how far governments should go to stop it.

"Congress wants harsh penalties doled out for these crimes because they don't want people defacing websites, but there has to be a way that we can bring the law into harmony with the realities of how people use technology today," said Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Keys, now a deputy social media editor for Reuters, was charged Thursday with conspiring with hacker group Anonymous to alter a Times news story in late 2010. Reuters has suspended him with pay.

The federal indictment accuses Keys of giving hackers the information they needed to access the computer system of Times' parent company, Tribune Co. Tribune also owns a California television station Keys had been fired from months earlier.

An attorney for Keys said he is not guilty, and that the government is overreaching in its zeal to prosecute Internet pranks.

"No one was hurt, there were no lasting injuries, no one's identify was stolen, lives weren't ruined," Jay Leiderman said Friday. "Mr. Keys was no different than any other embedded journalist. The story he was going after was inside this chat room, and he went there."

Keys didn't return a phone call seeking comment. "I'm okay," he tweeted yesterday in response to a journalism colleague wondering how he was doing.

Keys was suspended with pay late Thursday, said Reuters spokesman David Girardin, who did not elaborate. A spokesman for Tribune Co. Declined to comment.

Keys is charged with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, as well as transmitting and attempting to transmit that information. If convicted, prosecutors say he faces a combined 25 years prison and a USD 500,000 fine if sentenced to the maximum for each count.

PTI