Matthew Keys target of Draconian computer laws, attorney says

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Reuters journalist Matthew Keys is being targeted by the Department of Justice because he was reporting on the “hacktivist” group Anonymous, Keys’ attorney said Friday.

“It’s another one of these prosecutions that the government is using to turn heads and try to scare people away from reporting on Anonymous,” Jay Leiderman, a Ventura-based civil liberties attorney, said in an interview with The Times. “He wrote about his experience in kind of a private chat of Anonymous and that led to this.”

In a grand jury indictment filed Thursday in California’s Eastern District federal court, prosecutors accuse Reuters’ deputy social media editor of giving an Anonymous-affiliated hacker access to the Tribune Co.'s servers in 2010.

Reuters suspended Keys with pay Thursday, a company spokesman confirmed.


According to the indictment, Keys, 26, once worked for the Tribune Co.'s Sacramento-based KTXL FOX 40 TV station. The court filing includes an excerpt of an alleged chat between Keys, who went by the pseudonym “AESCracked” and an Anonymous hacker named “sharpie.”

Prosecutors allege the chat shows Keys agreeing to give the hacker access to Tribune servers. The hacker gained access to The Times’ website, where he changed a headline on a tax-cut related story to “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.’

Keys is charged with conspiracy to cause damage to a protected computer, transmission of malicious code and attempted transmission of a protected code. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison and $750,000 in fines.

Keys’ prosecution is an example of the government’s “draconian approach to computer crimes laws,” said his New York-based attorney, Tor Ekeland. “It’s fully our position he was merely a reporter doing a story on Anonymous and he happened to be in these chat rooms…. He did go in under that screen name to report on a story, but was that screen name always him? I don’t know at this point.”

Keys found out he was being charged through social media, he tweeted. Leiderman said they are waiting for him to receive his indictment in the mail so they can schedule a court appearance.


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