Social Media Journalist Fired on Allegations of Assisting Hacker (CA Penal Code §1030)

Last March, 26-year-old Matthew Keys was indicted on allegations of assisting others to hack the Los Angeles Times website and make changes to their web content – harmless alterations to random phrases.  Formerly an employee of Sacramento’s KTXL-TV Channel 40, the presumably disgruntled Keys has been accused of having posted sensitive login information in a chat room that was then used by a hacker named “Sharpie” to break into the system.  Keys was indicted on counts of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer.  He was recently also fired from Thomson Reuters, where he was the social media editor and his Twitter feed was recently named one of the best 140 Twitter feeds of 2012 by Time magazine.  Thomson Reuters insists, however, that Keys has not been fired for reasons relating to the charges against him.

These crimes, “fraud and related activity in connection with computers” (18 USC, §1030), are made illegal by The 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFFA), which is intended to discourage computer hackers, especially when it comes to governmental agencies.  The specific three charges against Keys are found in CA Penal Code §1030 (a)(5), §1030(a)(7), and §1030(b). If all three charges can be proven, Keys will face over $750,000 in fines and up to 25 years in prison – all for one momentary lapse of judgment.  Whether it was thoughtlessness or revenge that motivated Keys – or whether he is innocent entirely of the crimes he is accused of – remains to be seen.