The Romney Hacker Deserves Jail Time

A lot of people treat hacking like it’s some kind of game. It’s fun, it shows how smart you are, and nobody really gets hurt, right? Wrong. That’s like saying you’re a burglar who breaks into houses, goes through women’s underwear drawers, and leaves without taking anything. Even if you don’t do any damage, you’re still a criminal. You’re still violating their privacy — with emphasis on the word violating. They don’t really know what you did or what you didn’t do. They don’t know what you looked at. They don’t know what information you copied or gave away. All of that’s true even if you didn’t take a thing and often, they end up spending a lot of money on security to keep you, and people like you, out of their private lives in the future.

…Which brings us to the “hacker” who accessed Mitt Romney’s Email and Dropbox account. Yesterday, Gawker was excited to note that someone had hacked Mitt Romney’s email.

Everything old is new again: A tipster has emailed Gawker claiming to have hacked into Mitt Romney’s private email and DropBox accounts.

You will recall that roughly four years ago, 4Chan hackers got into Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! account, releasing a few private emails, photos, and her contact list. The lesson: If you’re running for national office, don’t use a private email that lets anyone reset the password if they can guess the city you were born in.

The Mitt Romney campaign responded to the story, which had no details, by “contacting the proper authorities.” That would be the FBI and/or the Secret Service. Well, apparently AFTER the hacker realized that he was dealing with people who were capable of tracking him down and putting him in jail for hacking the email of a man who may be the next President, he started rethinking the wisdom of his life choices.

Yesterday’s original tip about the hack contained frustratingly little evidence–make that none–that the tipster had actually conducted the caper. He or she simply provided us with an alleged new password for Romney’s account, as well as the associated DropBox account, and invited us to log in. Since unauthorized access of an email account is viewed in certain law enforcement circles as a federal crime, we demurred.

…After we published a story on it last night, the tipster wrote us back and sounded…regretful.

To Mitt Romney,

The time between when I first saw the email address in the WSJ and my first sending in the tip about my hacking was only a half hour at most. During this time I never stopped to consider what it was I was doing, it was only after I had got in to your account, after I sent my tip that I really started to consider what I had just done. While I was in I had thought about the tip I had sent in, about my use of the word ‘hack,’ my mind drifted to the British phone hacking scandal which I have been following closely. It was then I was hit with a terrible revelation, what I had done was no different then the actions of the tabloid journalists that had horrified me so.

So I tried to fix what I had done as best I could. There was no way for me to undo the fact I had illegally broken into your private accounts but I could stop the spread of the breech. I shutdown the Dropbox account and deleted all the files that I had downloaded and then, when I found myself unable to shutdown the email I changed the password and security question so that no one else could get in the way I had. Finally I have not and will not tell anyone what I have seen.

But none of this changes what I’ve done. I engaged in an egregious violation of another persons privacy, a violation made all the worse by way of your being a public figure who has so little privacy to begin with, a figure for whom what privacy can be found is doubtless a valuable gift. A gift I took away. For this I am sorry. When I hacked in it struck me as funny at first, but now… I have never felt as bad about something I have done as I feel right now.

…Considering the fact that the Secret Service reached out to us yesterday after the hacking item ran, it’s unclear whether the apology will achieve its desired effect.

I love how apologetic criminals get after they’ve committed a crime and realize they’re going to get caught. In his case, he broke into Romney’s email, was poring through it, and was obviously looking for material to send to Gawker. He even gave Romney’s passwords to Gawker — and for all we know, lots of other people. We don’t really know at this point. Suddenly, he realizes that he’s doing something that could and should actually lead to jail time and he has a change of heart. He doesn’t feel badly about getting into Romney’s account; he just doesn’t want to go to jail for making the mistake of getting into someone’s email account who can actually get the Secret Service and FBI to say “how high” when he says jump. Most of us aren’t so lucky and that’s one of the reasons they shouldn’t give this guy a break.

Most hackers get away with it not because they’re smooth criminals, but because the people who are victimized can’t get law enforcement to take it seriously. So, when a hacker is caught, he needs to be punished severely to send a message. With that in mind, I hope the Romney guy pushes for this guy to do jail time.

PS: Does a guy who guesses an email password qualify as a “hacker?” Some people, including a lot of real hackers, would probably say “no.” But, the effect is the same, no matter how lame the technique he used to get access turns out to be.

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