Criminal or Political Protestor?

By Paul Rosenzweig
Saturday, November 16, 2013, 10:17 AM

Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday.  That's the maximum sentence he could have gotten for his plea of guilty to a single instance of hacking a computer.

Readers of this blog will be forgiven if they don't know who Hammond is.  But they are missing an important component of conflict in cyberspace if they don't pay attention to incidents like this -- both for the law they create and for the intrinsic symbolism of Hammond's activities.

Hammond was a member of the hacker group Anonymous.  He was personally responsible for the hack of Stratfor, a global intelligence company.  He released through WikiLeaks personal data about the subscribers to Stratfor, many of who may well be Lawfare readers.  He was also responsible for hacking a number of government institutions like the Arizona Public Defenders office, and police departments in Arizona.  Perhaps most insidiously he was allegedly linked to an operation (AntiSec) in which the home addresses of Arizona police officers were publicly disclosed. [I hasten to note that this is NOT the crime to which he pled guilty -- though it may well explain the severity of his sentence.]

Hammond was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 USC 1030) an offense whose elements he quite clearly met.  Hammond's defense was not, however, that he didn't do the hack.  Rather, it was that he was a protester, acting in civil disobedience against the growing surveillance state.  His decision to plead guilty means that this defense was not tested in court (though I suspect it would have been unlikely to succeed).

What is most remarkable about the Hammond incident is the degree to which his prosecution has generated sympathy among a group of activists who are engaged in cyber political protest.  He has a "Free Jeremy" website and a twitter hashtag (#FreeHammond).  There is even a Solidarity Network, with its own theme song.  In short, Hammond is at the center of a small, but vibrant social movement.  To the extent the movement has effective power and cyber skills, that's a data point worth remembering.  As a  final note, Wikileaks says that now that Hammond's sentencing is concluded, it will release the remaining Stratfor files it has, including 500,000 new documents yesterday. So this story isn't over yet.