Dallas Journalist Facing Federal Identity Theft Charges Over Link

Dallas Journalist Facing Federal Identity Theft Charges Over Link

In 2010, a Dallas-based journalist who specializes in exposing ties between the government and private security firms formed an online collective called Project PM. The reporter, whose stories have appeared in publications including the Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, and the Guardian, wanted to investigate confidential documents unearthed by groups like WikiLeaks and the super-secret hacker collective Anonymous.

When Anonymous and WikiLeaks expose secret government and corporate files, the journalist reasoned, it’s often far too much information for the average reader to digest. He and his online collective aimed to analyze the information and summarize it for a wider audience.

One of his first projects, however, brought the full weight of federal prosecutors crashing down on him. Because of a single link he posted to WikiLeaks, he is now facing 12 counts of federal identity theft, one count each of trafficking in stolen authentication features and access device fraud, and other criminal charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a whopping 105 years in prison.

In Dec. 2011, Anonymous allegedly hacked into Austin-based Stratfor Global Intelligence, a federal contractor. It retrieved some five million emails and posted them on WikiLeaks. Those emails revealed what appeared to be inappropriately close ties between the federal government and security contractors like Stratfor, and the journalist, on behalf of Project PM, posted a link to them on WikiLeaks.

Unfortunately, in addition to those revelations, the emails also contained a vast trove of credit card numbers and security codes. The journalist wasn’t interested in those, but prosecutors certainly were. They charged him with federal identity theft on the theory that he had “provided access to data stolen from company Stratfor Global Intelligence to include in excess of 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders’ identification information, and the authentication features for the credit cards.”

Essentially, the prosecutor is asserting that linking to the information on WikiLeaks is the same thing as stealing it. “By transferring and posting the hyperlink,” the U.S. Attorney said in a press release, he “caused the data to be made available to other persons online.”

Sources interviewed by the New York Times said they think prosecutors are trying to send a message that hackers and leakers will not be tolerated. Considering that a Chicago man who pled guilty to being one of the actual Stratfor hackers was sentenced to only 10 years, the journalist’s 105-year potential sentence certainly does that.