Reuters Journalist Answers Charges Of Aiding Hackers
March 21, 2013

Accused Reuters Journalist Responds To Charges Of Helping Hackers

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Matthew Keys, the deputy social media editor at Reuters, is facing charges for conspiring with the hacktivist group Anonymous. The 26-year old has been suspended from Reuters with pay following his arrest last week, and is due in federal court in Sacramento, Calif. on April 12 to face an arraignment. If found guilty in this case, Keys faces up to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000.

In what could be a fitting move for a social media editor, he turned to social media to deny the allegations that he turned over a username and password for the networks of his former employers at The Tribune Co.

“I did not give a username and a password to anyone. I did not ℠conspire´ to ℠cause damage to a protected computer.´ I did not cause ℠transmission of malicious code,´ and I did not ℠attempt´ to cause ℠transmission of malicious code,´” he wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. “My attorneys have said much of the same over the past few days, but I feel it might mean more coming from me directly.”

As of Thursday morning he had more than 85 “likes” from apparent supporters.

Prosecutors in the case contend that Keys provided members of the hacker group Anonymous with the login information, which was then used to temporarily change a headline on a story published on the website of The Los Angeles Times. The hackers reportedly then vandalized the headline and a paragraph in a story on a tax-cut package.

The original headline was changed from “Pressure builds in House to pass tax-cut package” to “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.”

Keys´ attorneys counter that he was acting as an “undercover journalist” when he communicated with members of Anonymous.

“This is sort of an undercover-type, investigative journalism thing, and I know undercover — I´m using that term loosely,” attorney Jay Leiderman told the Huffington Post. “This is a guy who went where he needed to go to get the story. He went into the sort of dark corners of the Internet. He´s being prosecuted for that, for going to get the story.”

The case has already been hotly debated in the social media sphere — again fitting given how Keys remains so linked to it — and some have noted comparisons between the social media editor and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who killed himself in January following a lengthy Department of Justice investigation. Swartz was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud and other cyber crimes, which included the downloading of more than four million paywalled academic articles from an archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Keys has been charged under the same law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which is an amendment made in 1986 to the Counterfeit Access Device and Abuse Act (CFAA). The law was created to reduce cracking of computer systems and to address federal computer-related offenses. It has been amended many times, including 1986, 1989, 1994, 1996 and notably in 2001 by the USA Patriot Act. It was later amended in 2002 and most recently in 2008. As a result, some legal experts believe it to be too vague and say that it has sweeping powers that it wasn´t intended to have. Some are contenting that there is a large difference between downloading millions of articles and changing a headline on a website.

“Aaron Swartz and Matthew Keys are very different,” Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and expert on cyber crime, told The Washington Post. “They were charged under completely different parts of the law.”