Fayetteville’s Andrew Aurenheimer, better known as internet troll and “hacker” weev, is set to be released from federal prison after a federal appeals court reversed and vacated his conviction and sentence. Aurenheimer was convicted in 2012 of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and sentenced to a 41-month prison term for what the government called “unauthorized access” of AT&T’s servers in 2010.
In reality, Aurenheimer and another man, Daniel Spitler, discovered that AT&T hadn’t protected 114,000 email addresses of iPad owners, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other muckety mucks. Aurenheimer gave part of the list to Gawker.
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That led the FBI to investigate Aurenheimer and Spitler. The feds busted down Aurenheimer’s door in Fayetteville in 2011. Both he and Spitler were charged under the CFAA, a law that’s widely considered outdated and overbroad. The feds flipped Spitler, who testified against Aurenheimer. He’s spent more a year in jail, partly in solitary — possibly for surreptitiously tweeting.
Aurenheimer’s case has been a cause celebre for people who care about this sort of thing. But Aurenheimer hasn’t quite become a folk hero. That’s because, as sympathetic as the circumstances surrounding this case are, Aurenheimer is, by most accounts, the Internet’s biggest jerk . Gawker called him the “Internet’s best terrible person” in a profile (really well done by Adrian Chen). Here his, starring in a 2008 New York Times Magazine feature on Internet trolls:
Weev, the troll who thought hacking the epilepsy site was immoral, is legendary among trolls. He is said to have jammed the cellphones of daughters of C.E.O.’s and demanded ransom from their fathers; he is also said to have trashed his enemies’ credit ratings. Better documented are his repeated assaults on LiveJournal, an online diary site where he himself maintains a personal blog. Working with a group of fellow hackers and trolls, he once obtained access to thousands of user accounts.
I first met Weev in an online chat room that I visited while staying at Fortuny’s house. “I hack, I ruin, I make piles of money,” he boasted. “I make people afraid for their lives.” On the phone that night, Weev displayed a misanthropy far harsher than Fortuny’s. “Trolling is basically Internet eugenics,” he said, his voice pitching up like a jet engine on the runway. “I want everyone off the Internet. Bloggers are filth. They need to be destroyed. Blogging gives the illusion of participation to a bunch of retards. . . . We need to put these people in the oven!”
There’s much, much more where that came from.
That reputation may’ve influenced prosecutors, an Electric Frontier Foundation attorney told The Guardian.
Hanni Fakhoury, staff attorney at the EFF, said Auernheimer’s case was an example of a prosecution aimed at a person, not a crime: “One of the big problems of this case has always been that Auernheimer can be unsympathetic. The thing is, when you couple a very bad law [the CFAA] with the prosecutor having brought the decision being able to go after who they like, or who they don’t like, that’s a problem,” he said.
In today’s ruling, the 3rd Circuit U.S. Appeals Court didn’t address any of the substance of the case. From the opinion.
Although this appeal raises a number of complex and novel issues that are of great public importance in our increasingly interconnected age, we find it necessary to reach only one that has been fundamental since our country’s founding: venue.
The court said the trial should’ve taken place in Arkansas, where Aurenheimer’s alleged crime took place, rather than in New Jersey, where the emails were not-so-carefully stored.