Tech and policy: Hacking and punishment, plus cops’ access to our emails and more

At the corner of tech and policy, a couple of items of note:

• In the wake of a 2010 hack into the Los Angeles Times that briefly changed a headline on its website as a result of an alleged conspiracy between a Reuters social media editor with hacktivists Anonymous, some key questions:

Should Matthew Keys have been suspended by Reuters, which hired him after the fact? (He’s a former Web producer for a Sacramento TV station owned by Tribune Co., parent company as the Los Angeles Times.)

Keeping the prosecution of Aaron Swartz — the Internet activist who killed himself as he faced charges of downloading with the intent to share millions of academic journals from a non-public MIT database — in mind, is the government again acting too harshly by charging Keys? The charges against him carry prison terms of up to five years for one count and up to 10 years for the two others, and he’s facing fines of up to $250,000, according to the New York Times, which quotes at least a couple of people who basically say no real harm was done, although the Tribune Co. reportedly spent about $5,000 on computer-system updates after the hack. Still, Anonymous is famously anti-government, and although some have predicted the group’s impact is on the decline, it has proven to be resilient and determined.

And what can be done about anti-hacking laws that some are calling too broadly written and may carry penalties seen as too harsh? We mentioned in January that Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has drafted a bill that would make changes in the 1980s-era Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). And as the NYT points out, Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the case against Keys is another reason people should call for changes to the CFAA.

• What do famous libertarian Grover Norquist and the liberal ACLU have in common? They have teamed up to form Digital 4th, an advocacy group focused on pushing for reforming the  Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). They, along with Americans for Tax Reform and the Center for Democracy & Technology, say that ECPA, a 1980s-era law, should be updated so that cops and other government agencies would be required to get a warrant before accessing email and other electronic communications of suspects. An effort has been under way to make changes to ECPA, but Digital 4th wants to give it a boost.

In an op-ed for Politico, Norquist and the ACLU’s Laura Murphy say the information we store in the cloud should be protected by the Fourth Amendment. They write: “All private communications and documents stored online with service providers should have the same protections from unreasonable search and seizure as material locally stored.”

(Photo of Matthew Keys, above, by Reuters)


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